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Don’t Track Kids stops iPhone apps from spying on kids

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A frightening number of child apps spy on them. Now parents can get help stopping it.

A new app called Do not follow children acts as a privacy shield for iPhones and iPads used by children. For $5 a month, it runs in the background of the device to block companies that harvest personal information from children (and adults too). It also contains cartoon lessons to teach kids about online privacy.

Do Not Track Kids was created by a dad who knows a bit about digital snoopers: former National Security Agency researcher Patrick Jackson. Today, Jackson is the Chief Technology Officer of Disconnecta company that also makes privacy software used to power tracking prevention in web browsers, including Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Edge.

Crafting tools specifically to help parents protect children’s privacy has long been on his to-do list. Companies want data about children such as their location and ways to identify their phones to target them with ads, influence impressionable young minds and try to maximize their app addiction.

Collecting data from children under 13 without parental consent is supposed to be against the law, but this 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.

We, the Users: Your Kids’ Apps Are Spying on Them

Do Not Track Kids works by connecting to part of the iPhone’s operating system and literally shutting down the connections that apps, websites, and emails make with advertising companies and data brokers.

“We’re different from an ad blocker, in that our goal isn’t just to block as many ads as possible,” Jackson explains. “We block ads that follow you. And it turns out that many of the worst ads on the internet follow you.

For example, some parents have even found sexually inappropriate advertisements in apps and websites designed for children.

Aren’t iPhones already supposed to be private? Apple’s marketing makes a big deal of the iPhone’s ability to stop tracking, but its built-in defenses don’t go as far as Do Not Track Kids. For any parent locking an iPhone, enabling Apple’s “Ask app not to track” setting is a great first step. But even with that, apps still find ways to track users. Apple said it believes its App Store review process protects children’s privacy.

A guide to giving your child their first phone

The first time you set up Do Not Track Kids, you’ll need to open iPhone Settings and allow Do Not Track Kids to run, under General > VPN & Device Management > DNS. After doing this once, Do Not Track Kids will run in the background, although the app does offer settings that you can change to be more or less strict about blocking logins to companies like Facebook, Google , TikTok and Snapchat.

Do-Not-Track fulfills a long-standing technological parental need, but it’s only part of the larger effort to keep kids safe online. Because the app focuses on privacy, it doesn’t actually collect information that children enter into apps and websites. Parents will therefore always have to be on the lookout for threats such as predators convincing children to share their names and addresses or the impact of too much social media.