"Won't Somebody Think of the Children" Privacy Analysis at Scale: A Case Study With COPPA

Title"Won't Somebody Think of the Children" Privacy Analysis at Scale: A Case Study With COPPA
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsReyes, I., Wijesekera P., Reardon J., Elazari A., Razaghpanah A., Vallina-Rodriguez N., & Egelman S.
Published inProceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies

We present a scalable dynamic analysis framework that allows for the automatic evaluation of the privacy behaviors of Android apps. We use our system to analyze mobile apps’ compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), one of the few stringent privacy laws in the U.S. Based on our automated analysis of 5,855 of the most popular free children’s apps, we found that a majority are potentially in violation of COPPA, mainly due to their use of thirdparty SDKs. While many of these SDKs offer configuration options to respect COPPA by disabling tracking and behavioral advertising, our data suggest that a majority of apps either do not make use of these options or incorrectly propagate them across mediation SDKs. Worse, we observed that 19% of children’s apps collect identifiers or other personally identifiable information (PII) via SDKs whose terms of service outright prohibit their use in child-directed apps. Finally, we show that efforts by Google to limit tracking through the use of a resettable advertising ID have had little success: of the 3,454 apps that share the resettable ID with advertisers, 66% transmit other, non-resettable, persistent identifiers as well, negating any intended privacy-preserving properties of the advertising ID.


This research was supported by NSF grants CNS1318680 and CNS-1564329, the Data Transparency Lab, DHS contract FA8750-16-C-0140, and the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC) at U.C. Berkeley. We would like to thank Jianan Amber Lu and Ehimare Okoyomon for their assistance, Joe Calandrino for feedback, as well as Refjohürs Lykkewe.

ICSI Research Group

Usable Security and Privacy