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Here's how to keep apps for kids from compromising your security

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

Apps for kids: Learn how to protect your children — and your wallet

Apps can be wonderful things. They can help us organize our lives, simplify daily tasks, introduce our children to various educational and creative programs and entertain them for hours on end. But what about the potential downside that comes along with them?

Despite the fact that too much screen time can have some detrimental effects on kids, we can't ignore the world we live in. Tech-literacy is where it's at, and with that comes the wild world of apps. As parents, we're tasked with finding ones that are kid-appropriate, safe, ideally educational but also not boring. It can feel a little intimidating as a parent starting to navigate all this with a child who is ready to venture out into the World Wide Web.

In addition to finding interesting, child-friendly apps, there's always the worry about how kids will use them — either intentionally or not. For instance, Angry Birds seems like a fairly innocuous app (unless your kid has a problem with pigs and poultry in real life!), but with a few clicks here and there, even after making sure all the settings are in order, your child may inadvertently buy the entire Angry Birds collection. Oops. And while Angry Birds might not do much damage, look no further than the popular game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood to see how ugly it can really get. Author Ayelet Waldman took her rage to Twitter when she discovered her 11-year-old son spent $120 of real money on "koins," the currency used in Hollywood.

While accidental overspending is one tricky aspect to the world of apps and games, another is much more dangerous: information sourcing. Two companies recently learned the hard way that parents don't take too kindly to their children's personal information being taken without their knowledge or permission. Yelp and TinyCo both settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on charges that they improperly gathered information from children. The settlement comes on the heels of various complaints that developers are ignoring the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which is supposed to ban companies from collecting personal information from children under 13 without explicit parental consent.

So what's a parent to do? I got in touch with Sara Kloek, director of Moms With Apps, a first-of-its-kind destination that gives parents the power to choose the best apps by providing information — in plain English — to help them decide which ones are right for their kids. Sara took the time to share some of her top tips for parents when it comes to apps:

Read about the app: All app stores disclose whether or not apps have in-app purchases. On the iTunes App Store, look near the app logo for "Offers In-App Purchases" to know if the app has in-app purchases. You can also scroll to find the link to the developers' privacy policy to figure out whether the app collects personal information. If the app doesn't have a privacy policy, then you might want to think twice about downloading it.

Know thy settings: Did you know you can turn off features like in-app purchasing or even the entire access to the internet? On iPhone, go to Settings > General > Restrictions, enter Restrictions Passcode (different from normal pass code), and you can turn off all sorts of apps on your phone, like Safari, Camera, FaceTime, Installing Apps, In-App Purchases, etc.

Try it out before you let your kid use it: You know best what content works for your child. Open the app, and play around with it before you let your kid play with it. You'll be able to know pretty quickly if the content is appropriate for your kid, if the app includes advertising or annoying pop-ups and if the app has in-app purchases.

More kid-related tech talk

Protecting your child's online identity
We're losing our kids to virtual worlds
Kids and technology: Age appropriate guide

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