There’s a law in the United States that says companies aren’t supposed to track young children, but they do it anyway. More than two thirds of the most popular kids’ iPhone apps collect and share personal information, according to a recent study from Pixalate. By some estimates, digital ad firms have collected an average of 72 million data points about every kid by the time they turn 13, the age legal data collection is supposed to start.
A new app from the security firm Disconnect aims to do something about it. Do Not Track Kids, which launched in the Apple App Store last week, blocks trackers across your entire device while teaching kids about privacy along the way.
“The point of all this data collection is to influence your behavior, whether it’s getting you to buy a product, promoting compulsive behavior, or even pushing an ideology,” Casey Oppenheim, CEO of Disconnect, told Gizmodo. “When you put that in the context of kids, there’s something about it that’s really sinister.”
Apps, websites, and even emails are littered with hidden trackers that vacuum up details about you in the background. Apple makes a big deal about how its privacy settings protect you from all of that, but the company may get more credit than it deserves. Your iPhone’s settings can make a difference, but tech companies are still spying on you and your family on a near constant basis.
Do Not Track Kids goes farther, Disconnect says: All you have to do is install it on the iPhone or iPad your child uses, make a quick change to your device settings, and the app will automatically start blocking a wide swath of data collection.
Unfortunately, tracking is so entwined in the core of the internet that the most effective privacy tools can break a lot of apps and websites. By default, the controls in Do Not Track Kids will block some privacy-violating tech without interrupting your children’s favorite apps. But the app includes specific settings you can use to fine tune your protection from several different companies, including Google, Meta, and TikTok. The most aggressive settings can completely block these and other companies’ services.
Do Not Track Kids stops app tracking and also includes tools that block the trackers in your email inbox as well as services that hijack your device to mine cryptocurrency. The app also encrypts and filters your Domain Name System (DNS) connections, which means your cell phone company and internet service provider will have a harder time spying on you. Disconnect says you don’t have to worry about the company misusing your data either; it says it doesn’t connect any information that you don’t provide voluntarily.
In addition to protecting your children’s privacy, the app also has some cute comic-book style explainers about how data collection works and why it matters. It’s everything you need to turn your kids into little data privacy warriors.
There are supposed to be legal protections ensuring kids’ privacy, but Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (better known as COPPA) has loopholes that are big enough to drive a school bus through.