An awful lot of children’s programs spy on them. Now parents can get help to stop it.
A new app called Do Not Track Kids acts as a privacy protection for iPhones and iPads used by children. For $5 a month, it works in the background of your device to block companies that harvest children’s (as well as adults’) personal information. It also includes cartoons to teach kids about online privacy.
Do Not Track Kids was created by a dad who knows his way around digital spies: former National Security Agency researcher Patrick Jackson. Today, Jackson is the chief technology officer of Disconnect, a company that also develops privacy software used to prevent tracking in web browsers including Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge.
Creating tools specifically to help parents protect their children’s privacy has long been on his to-do list. Companies want children’s data, such as their location and how their phones identify them, to target them with ads, influence impressionable young minds and try to maximize their app addiction.
Collecting data on children under the age of 13 without parental consent is considered against the law, but the law is not very well enforced. According to a recent study, more than two-thirds of the top 1,000 iPhone apps likely to be used by children send data to the advertising industry.
Not Track Kids works by connecting to a part of the iPhone’s operating system and literally stopping apps, websites, and emails from connecting with advertising companies and data brokers.
“What sets us apart from ad blockers is that our goal is not just to block as many ads as possible,” says Jackson. “We block ads that track you. And it turns out that many of the worst ads on the web are following you.”
For example, some parents have even found sexually inappropriate ads in apps and websites designed for children.
Isn’t iPhone supposed to be private already? Apple’s marketing hypes the iPhone’s ability to stop tracking, but its built-in protections fall short of Do Not Track Kids. For any parent locking down an iPhone, enabling Apple’s Ask Do Not Track option is a worthwhile first step. But even with it enabled, apps still find ways to track users. Apple said it believes the App Store review process protects children’s privacy.
The first time you set up Parental Control, you’ll need to open your iPhone’s settings and enable Parental Control under General > VPN & Device Management > DNS. Once you’ve done this once, Do Not Track Kids runs in the background, though the app offers settings you can adjust to more or less strictly block connections to companies including Facebook, Google, TikTok, and Snapchat.
Not Track Kids addresses one long-term tech education need, but it’s only part of a larger effort to keep kids safe online. Because the app is focused on privacy, it doesn’t actually collect information that kids enter into apps and websites, so parents will still need to watch out for threats like predators convincing kids to give out their names and addresses, or exposure to too much social media .