TTP Investigation: Apple’s App Store Loopholes Put Children at Risk
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 25, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report revealing major weaknesses in Apple’s App Store child safety measures, which allow minors to easily access adult content such as pornography, dating apps, and gambling. Using an Apple ID for a simulated 14-year-old, TTP examined nearly 80 age-restricted apps on the App Store and discovered that the underage user could easily evade the apps’ age restrictions in the vast majority of cases, often with minimal effort.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “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. If Apple already knows that a user is under 18, how can it let the user download adult apps in the first place?”
When the 14-year-old test account tried to download the adult apps, Apple served a pop-up message asking the user to confirm they were 17+. But if the test account clicked OK, Apple did not prevent the download, despite knowing from the Apple ID the user was 14. That puts the onus on the apps themselves to monitor for underage users, and TTP found the system is riddled with holes.
Take UberHoney, a dating app that was one of the U.S. top-50 most downloaded lifestyle apps in March 2021. The app immediately displayed pornographic material before even asking for the user’s age. Though pornography is a clear violation of Apple’s App Store Review guidelines, UberHoney has been available on the app store since September 2020.
Another 17+ app, Anonymous chat for two, randomly pairs users together and allows them to exchange texts and images. TTP’s 14-year-old-user was able to gain immediate access to the app without being asked for their age once. The reviews of the app on the App Store are filled with complaints about rampant pornography, with one reviewer saying, “99 percent of the people here… just want nudes.”
Though TTP found that gambling apps, which are bound by laws restricting underage gambling, were typically more thorough in checking the age of their users, there were some notable exceptions. One example was Cash Clash Games, a gambling app that allowed TTP’s 14-year-old user to deposit and withdraw cash for gambling. The app’s only attempt at age verification came with miniscule print at the bottom of the registration page, stating that the user agreed that they were 18 years old or older.
Beyond these egregious examples, TTP’s investigation found broader issues with the App Store’s approach to child safety. A total of 37 of the adult apps that TTP examined allowed registration with the user’s Apple ID, and in each case, TTP’s simulated 14-year-old account was able to sign up—even though Apple knew that the account belonged to a minor.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Apple has clearly chosen to pass the buck on protecting children to the app developers. But, while it seemingly has no desire to accept responsibility, Apple has no problem taking its cut of the profits that arise from age-inappropriate transactions.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.