Apple App Store Has Problematic Child Safety Measures, Watchdog Says

Photo: (Photo : LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)

Following an investigation, a watchdog group has claimed that the Apple App store is rife with problems relating to child safety measures as minor children could easily access adult content like dating, sex, or gambling apps.

Campaign for Accountability (CFA) took on the Apple App Store under its Tech Transparency Project (TTP) and released a report noting that the system is filled with "major weaknesses" in its child-safety measures.

The group said that they tried to create a minor account and were simply presented with a pop-up notification to click "OK" if they are older than 17 years old on at least 80 apps for adults. Even as the users declared their age (14 years old) and the Apple App Store recorded their birthdate when they signed up for a new account, it still failed to restrict download access to apps like "Eros: Hook Up & Adult Chat" or "KinkD: Kink, BDSM Dating Life."

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What TTP Discovered

The App Store does not share user's data with app developers, so even if the app's age rating indicates 17+, a 13-year-old user could still download and register for an account. For instance, Tinder for Teens is a 17+ app, but TTP's minor account was able to sign up even if the terms of service stated that kids under 17 could not use their services.

The group said that they also came across a dating app that directly opened to adult content before asking the user's age. They also found a gambling app that allowed minors to open an account for depositing or withdrawing money.

The investigation also showed flaws in blocking minor users and unreliable age verification mechanism that doesn't exactly learn the user's age, thus making it easier for teenagers to bypass the system. This happened when TTP's minor account downloaded and signed up for Grinder, which requires 18+ users. The app popped up a notification to "come back later" when the user entered, tried to make an account as 14 years old. It was easy to change the user's birthdate to reflect that she's 18.

Cannot Pass the Buck

CFA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith called out Apple for this oversight. In a statement, Kuppersmith said that this company's product has no obvious safeguards for the children.

"If Apple already knows that a user is under 18, how can it let the user download adult apps in the first place?" the director asked. She also said that Apple could not pass the responsibility of protecting minors on the app developers when profiting from these transactions.

Apple, however, did not comment on the report, but a spokesperson said that its products have parental control features. Ideally, it's parents who chose the app their kids use, and it's also the moms or dads who set the limits on their children's devices so they won't be able to access and download apps that are not age-appropriate.

The tech giant also stated that they reject inappropriate apps for the App Store, especially if these will put kids at risk, and conducts regular reviews and updates to ensure that the developers follow the guidelines.

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