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.
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.