Google Play Apps Warning: Children Targeted by Harmful Software, FTC Complaint Claims

Google is again under fire for allegedly allowing deceptive apps to reach children via its app store for smartphones that run Android software.

Seemingly undeterred by a 2014 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that forced Google to refund $19 million for making it easy for children to make in-app purchases without parental permission, the tech giant now has a coalition of watchdog groups on its back.

The Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, plus Consumer Action, Public Citizen and the U.S. Public Interest Group are among two dozen groups asking the FTC to investigate whether Google has endangered children.

The coalition alleged, in a 102-page complaint filed Wednesday with the FTC, that apps in a section of the Google Play store designed for children have caused harm by breaking privacy laws, displaying adult content or using manipulative advertising, reported The Associated Press.

Google software powers 2 billion devices worldwide, according to the AP, with many of them used by minors. The complaint alleged misconduct under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and Google's own policies regarding advertising aimed at children.

"We take these issues very seriously and continue to work hard to remove any content that is inappropriately aimed at children from our platform," said Google in a statement. The company reiterated its commitment to protect children when they were online and said it prohibited targeted advertising at children under age 13.

In April, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy—which are leading the complaint—requested that the FTC investigate Google's YouTube website for allegedly violating children's online privacy.

"It is past time for the Federal Trade Commission to crack down to protect children's privacy," said Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, in support of the coalition.

Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and a vocal critic of Google, also supported the complaint at a time when Google, Facebook and other tech companies face intense scrutiny from Congress.

Specifically, Congress has questioned company CEOs about their money-making model of tracking users' interests and locations, then mining such data in order to splash targeted ads on their free service sites.

In 2014, U.S. regulators also punished Apple for allowing in-app purchases by minors made on iPhones, iPads and other devices without parental consent. Apple agreed to refund $32.5 million to parents who hadn't authorized hefty purchases racked up by their children on their iPhones and iPads.