New Rules for Kids Apps

New online privacy rules for children make smart phone and iPad play safer than ever. Plus, kids app review sites.

“Hey, Mom, can I get this app?”

Before you answer, do you glance at the screen, see a cartoony graphic and assume the app is OK for kids? Or do you grab the phone or iPad away to research the app’s content and what personal information your child will have to divulge to use it?

Snapchat's internal self-destruct functionality is designed to keep teen users safe by dissolving photos and texts after 10 seconds. Read about its pros and cons here.  

Going forward, determining which apps are truly kid-safe will be easier than ever. On July 1, an FTC amendment to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) extended regulations on mobile apps concerning the disclosure, collection and usage of personal information for users under age 13.

The new app guidelines

App developers must now:

  • Provide a clear account of the personal data they collect from children — including first, last, user and screen names; physical address and geolocation; online contact info; phone and social security numbers; and photo, video or audio files that contain a child’s image or voice.
  • Provide notice to and gain consent from parents to obtain this data and share it with third parties.
  • Allow parents the option to have the data purged and/or its collection stopped at any time.
  • Take reasonable measures to maintain the confidentiality of the data, and retain it only for as long as it serves the purpose for which it was collected.

Identify whether the app you’re considering is COPPA-compliant by checking the “privacy policy” link at your app store. It’s located under the “Links” section on the left-hand side of an Apple listing and below the main image of a Google Play listing.

The App Review
Now that you know how to find out which apps are safe, see if they’re educational with help from the following app-review sites.

Mind Leap Tech reviews apps with three things in mind:
1. Does the app trigger genuine learning?  
2. Do kids enjoy using it?  
3. Will they want to use it more than once?  
Reviews are organized by grade level so you can pinpoint what works for preschoolers or fifth graders. Sign up for e-mail alerts about apps on particular subjects.

The nonprofit Common Sense Media now reviews apps in addition to family movies, video games, TV shows, websites, books and music. The site uses an easy-to-understand ratings system that helps parents zero in on content that is developmentally appropriate. Reviews also include a “learning rating,” which considers engagement, learning approach, feedback and support.

Digital-storytime reviews picture books that have been adapted for the iPad. In addition to a candid assessment of the book, each review includes screen shots and videos. There are also some helpful top 10 lists, many organized around topics that appeal to inquisitive kids, such as elephants, pirates and planets.

Apps in Education reviews 1,000 apps weekly to identify the ones that are most likely to be useful to teachers. This is a great place to look for apps that will help a child catch up on fractions or some other subject that he didn’t quite master last year.

International Children's Digital Library offers a free app that gives children access to more than 4,000 books from around the world, many of which have been translated so kids can listen to stories in more than one language. The site's also got an app that helps children write and share their own stories.

Storia is another free app that gives readers easy access to many of the popular books available from Scholastic book clubs and at the company's in-school book fairs. When you download the app you can choose five free books; after that, you’ll pay from $1.95 to $20 per book.   

Teaching Appz is another good source for apps endorsed by teachers in Great Britain. The reviewers are quite selective, so you don’t have to wade through a long list to find topnotch apps in various subjects. Reviews also include tips about how to use each app to stimulate learning. 

Read Me Stories provides a daily book ideal for children who are just learning to read.

Similarly, Brain Pop offers a daily mini-movie about a random topic likely to interest elementary age children.

Carolyn Jabs is the voice of
Categories: Tech Talk