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Protecting Kids' Digital Privacy Is Now Easier Than Ever

Families and educators can now find our industry-leading privacy ratings for apps and platforms all in one place.

Three icons for pass, warning, and fail that show our privacy rating.

Apps and platforms can be just like junk food: delicious and hard to resist, but less healthy. And they're designed that way for a simple purpose: to keep you hooked so they can make more money. They're built to learn everything they can about our behaviors, our preferences, our opinions, and our desires. Then they use that info to serve up personalized content that keeps us hooked for long periods of time, leading us toward unconscious decisions to buy certain products or services.

By now, most of us realize that the technology we engage with is collecting and using our data in ways we don't fully understand. Our recent State of Kids' Privacy report revealed that 91% of consumers want more control over their privacy online, but the tech industry still has a long way to go. During our research, we found that nearly three-quarters of the industry is still monetizing users' data for sale in some way—almost the complete reverse of what companies are telling kids and families. Privacy policies are also either hard to find or difficult to understand. Parents have told us they need more help to better protect their kids' and teens' privacy.

Our goal is to make it easier for families to find the information they're looking for about privacy—and to continue our commitment to recognizing high-quality media. That's why we've now integrated our industry-leading privacy ratings into our app reviews for kids and families. That means parents and caregivers can now find our ratings for privacy right alongside our gold-standard app ratings for quality and age appropriateness. This new, simplified, and integrated approach to presenting our privacy ratings at a single point of decision gives parents a complete picture of the content, quality, and privacy of an app or platform, all in one place.

By integrating privacy ratings into our reviews, we aim to make it easier for adults both to quickly identify when an app or platform might be risky and to help them find safer options. Technology is changing fast, making it easier for app and platform providers to track and monetize our data without our knowledge or consent. This means we need to work harder to create safe spaces for our kids through clearer policies and evidence-based ratings that hold companies accountable, taking away the guesswork.

About our ratings
Because media profoundly affects kids' social, emotional, and physical development, Common Sense Media evaluates media based on age appropriateness. But part of our mission is to also recognize and champion high-quality media. So our star rating reflects each title's overall quality, taking into account everything from meaningful character development and enriching, relatable stories to positive messages and diverse representations. (Because sometimes things may be appropriate for a child's age but not of the best quality.) Providing both sets of ratings helps parents, educators, and anyone making media decisions use their own sets of values and judgment to ultimately decide what they feel comfortable with their kids watching, reading, or playing.

Now, when users visit one of our app reviews, they'll see a new set of privacy badges alongside our familiar age check mark and star rating. To determine privacy quality, we evaluate apps against our unique privacy framework and give them one of three ratings: Pass, Warning, or Fail.

  • Pass: Meets our minimum requirements for privacy and security practices.
  • Warning: Does not meet our recommendations for privacy and security practices.
  • Fail: Does not have a privacy policy.

In addition to seeing the privacy rating badges with a quick glance, families can also take a closer look into the details behind why each app received its rating, with green check marks or orange warning icons for answers to each of the rating questions. For instance, to earn our highest "Pass" rating, an app or platform must say it protects the privacy of kids and families in several ways, one of which is not selling data. A Pass rating also indicates that there's no third-party tracking or marketing, no profiling, no tracking across apps, and no targeted ads.

That's why you might see a consumer app review that's rated 4 or 5 stars—like Instagram—also receive a "Warning" privacy rating. While Instagram is a great place for community and connection, it also sells users' data for profit and uses targeted advertising. Choosing the right app is a lot like considering balanced meals at the supermarket. Some treats—like ice cream!—may taste great, but they need to be balanced out with a healthy variety of other foods. Our privacy ratings help parents and caregivers understand that some apps, while fun, shouldn't be used by kids or families.

At Common Sense, our free privacy ratings have been helping families and educators make smart and informed decisions about the apps, edtech, and smart tech they use for the last seven years. They offer a great opportunity to talk with your kids about how to protect their data privacy on their favorite apps and platforms, and make smart choices about what data they share and why. These conversations can prepare kids and teens for a healthier digital future, where everyone has a right to privacy.

Girard Kelly

Girard Kelly is the head of the Common Sense Privacy Program. He is an attorney focused on Internet, privacy, cybersecurity, and Intellectual Property law who thrives on cutting-edge legal issues and has a strong background in public policy, information technology, entrepreneurship, and emerging technologies.