76% of Santa Calling mobile apps for kids request access to camera 

A recent study by Pixalate sheds light on privacy issues associated with Santa calling apps designed for children. The study examined 231 apps available on Google Play and the Apple App Store, revealing that 76% of these apps, intended for kids to call Santa Claus, request access to the user’s camera. 

The data, covering the third quarter of 2023, identified 190 apps on Google Play and 41 apps on the Apple App Store, with approximately 39 million downloads.

Among the concerning findings, 41% of the apps run ads, with 38% on Google Play and 49% on the Apple App Store. Additionally, 33 of the apps request access to the user’s location, but an alarming 53 were observed passing this data to advertisers. Notably, 88% of these apps sent user GPS coordinates in the advertising bid stream.

Privacy policies were lacking in 19 of the apps, and 14 were likely subject to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for sharing location information with advertisers. Furthermore, 87% of the apps lacked an age gate and verified parental consent mechanism. 

Another significant discovery was that 44% of the Santa calling apps in the Apple App Store appeared to be abandoned for at least two years, in contrast to 15% on Google Play.

Pixalate emphasizes that outdated and abandoned apps pose potential privacy and data security risks, as vulnerabilities may go unnoticed, leading to increased user risk and potential compliance violations within the advertising industry. 

An additional concern highlighted in the study is that 90% of these apps lack a country of registry, with six registered in the U.S. and five in the U.K. This comprehensive study underscores the importance of scrutinizing apps designed for children to ensure a secure and privacy-compliant digital environment.

Written by Maya Robertson


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