Security experts warn parents of Santa texting apps

Security experts warn parents to try out Santa texting apps before letting your kids use them.

Security experts warn parents of Santa texting apps
Santa texting app (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - It may sound like a cool idea. Instead of going to the mall and waiting in long lines to sit on Santa’s lap, you can now text him, call him, or video chat with Santa.

New apps are being created every year to interact with Santa virtually, but some experts are warning, before you use the apps, you’ll want to check them twice.

Security experts warn parents of Santa texting apps

New reports show parents have had concerns after finding their kids interacted with virtual Santa’s who started asking personal questions about their children.

In one example, the “Santa” asks the child the color of their eyes.

Another example shows a “Santa” asking the child where she goes to school.

19 News tried one of the apps. It appears the app is a robot. The questions “Santa” asks are the same each time.

The app asked questions like:

  • “Are you a boy or girl?”
  • “Were you naughty or nice?”
  • “What do you want for Christmas?”

FTC Attorney Fil de Banate said he doesn’t believe the federal agency is currently investigating any cases like this in the U.S, but he does say they’re keeping a close eye out for how the apps work.

“It is interesting it terms of if it’s collecting information from children," de Banate said.

If the “Santa” on the other end asks for personal information about your child, they could be violating the children’s online privacy protection act.

de Banate recommends parents be knowledgeable about all types of phone and tablet apps and websites.

“Do a test run. Figure out what is being said, how your kids might interact with the website or the app, and then when you are comfortable as a parent or adult, then you could let your child enjoy the app or website," he suggested.

Make sure you also read the small print before agreeing to shell out cash to Skype with the man in the red suit.

“If it turns out you aren’t getting what you were promised to get, that becomes an issue," de Banate said.

The BBB recommends you following this advice for downloading any apps.

  • Read the Privacy Policy: Responsible apps directed to children provide a description of the service’s information collection practices before a parent or child downloads an app to their device. COPPA requires, at the very least, that the privacy policy be on the homepage of the app when you open it. If you can’t find a privacy policy, that’s a red flag. It’s very likely that they’re on Santa’s naughty list.A privacy policy should include: A list of who is collecting personal information; What information the device collects and how it’s used; How personal information is stored; Who has access to data; and a list of your parental rights.
  • Learn What Personal Information is Collected: Online services directed to children may not collect, maintain or share a photograph, video or voice recordings of a child from children without first getting consent from a parent or guardian. The law also requires that apps get parental consent before allowing kids to disclose personal information publicly. Check out what the app has going on before you allow your child to play with it.
  • Set Permission Requirements: Many apps that are listed as free in the app store have in-app purchases that might be accessed by children after a parent has allowed them to download the app. Ensure that your child’s device is set to require a password for each download.
  • Be Wary of Free Apps: Most free apps contain more advertising than apps that require even a nominal fee. Free apps, even those labeled as educational, may have deceptive and disruptive advertising practices—some even advertise inappropriate content. Ads may pop up extremely frequently and kids are often required to view these ads in full to continue in the game. Ads may also trick kids into clicking by placing them behind enticing items like coins or adorable creatures. If an app is meant for both children and parents to use, then not all of its advertisements may be appropriate for younger children; it may contain ads for games or films intended for older audiences.

If you do use a Santa texting app and you get a creepy text, first call police.

Then, report the app to the FTC, BBB, or other consumer agency. You can also file a complaint by clicking here.

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