Watchdog Investigation Finds 'Major Weaknesses' in Apple's App Store Child Safety Measures

The non-profit watchdog group Campaign for Accountability today released a report revealing "major weaknesses" in Apple's App Store child safety measures that allow minors to easily access adult content such as pornography and gambling.

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As part of its Tech Transparency Project, the watchdog group said it set up an Apple ID for a fictitious 14-year-old user and used it to download and test 75 apps in the App Store across several adult-oriented genres: dating, hookups, online chat, and casino/gambling. Despite all of these apps being designated as 17+ on the App Store, the investigation found the underage user could easily evade the apps' age restrictions.

Among the findings presented included a dating app that presented pornography before asking the user's age, adult chat apps with explicit images that never asked the user's age, and a gambling app that allowed the minor to deposit and withdraw money.

The investigation also identified broader flaws in Apple's approach to child safety, claiming that Apple and many apps "essentially pass the buck to each other" when it comes to blocking underage users. The report added that a number of apps design their age verification mechanisms "in a way that minimizes the chance of learning the user is underage," and claimed that Apple takes no discernible steps to prevent this.

"Apple claims that it maintains a tight grip over App Store creators to protect consumers from harmful content, but it hasn't even put up the most obvious safeguard to keep underage users safe," said the Campaign for Accountability's executive director Michelle Kuppersmith, in a press release accompanying the investigation. "If Apple already knows that a user is under 18, how can it let the user download adult apps in the first place?"

The investigation concluded that Apple has created an ecosystem that is much more dangerous for minors than the company advertises. More details and methodology can be found on the Tech Transparency Project website.

Update: In response to the findings, Apple said the App Store has proved to be a safe and trusted place to discover and download apps for over a decade, adding that parental control features built into iOS and iPadOS allow parents to choose what apps children can download, how long they can spend each day on specific apps and websites, and ensure children can only buy or download apps appropriate for them.

For its investigation, the watchdog group did not activate parental controls on the hypothetical 14-year-old user's iPhone.

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Top Rated Comments

dannyyankou Avatar
36 months ago
Apple has an age rating system and parents can block their kids from downloading apps based on the age rating. I’m not sure what else they can do. Should they just block apps based on the age on their Apple ID? I think parents should be acting like the parents here, not apple.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
georgeperez Avatar
36 months ago

C'mon Apple. Swallow your pride and drop this program. I also believe that Apple's release of Cloud Relay is not coincidental. They are working towards something bigger with these kinds of implementations, we just don't know what.
Show me you didn't read the article without telling me you didn't read the article.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
techfirth Avatar
36 months ago
C’mon Apple, pull your weight! Supervise our children and enforce our rules so we don’t have to deal with them in person ever again will ya’?

Give me strength.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
KaliYoni Avatar
36 months ago

The non-profit watchdog group Campaign for Accountability today released a report ('https://campaignforaccountability.org/ttp-investigation-apples-app-store-loopholes-put-children-at-risk/') revealing "major weaknesses" in Apple's App Store child safety measures that allow minors to easily access adult content such as pornography and gambling.
I'd say hands-off parenting is a bigger "weakness" here. Outsourcing supervision of what your kids are doing online to companies or local governments is, in a word, dumb. And professional activists? Even worse.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Apple Knowledge Navigator Avatar
36 months ago
The biggest weakness is parents giving into ‘V-Bucks’ (or other in-game currencies). Or simply not setting up parental controls in the first place.

Talk about teaching kids the value of money…
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ponzicoinbro Avatar
36 months ago
If they've got a problem with the App Store imagine the problem they'll have with third party stores full of apps created by nonces.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)