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JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2018 Jan 4;6(1):e3. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.7626.

Privacy Policies for Apps Targeted Toward Youth: Descriptive Analysis of Readability.

Das G1,2, Cheung C3, Nebeker C1,3, Bietz M3,4, Bloss C1,3,5.

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Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States.
Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States.
Qualcomm Institute, California Institute for Telecommunications and Technology, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States.
Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States.
Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States.



Due to the growing availability of consumer information, the protection of personal data is of increasing concern.


We assessed readability metrics of privacy policies for apps that are either available to or targeted toward youth to inform strategies to educate and protect youth from unintentional sharing of personal data.


We reviewed the 1200 highest ranked apps from the Apple and Google Play Stores and systematically selected apps geared toward youth. After applying exclusion criteria, 99 highly ranked apps geared toward minors remained, 64 of which had a privacy policy. We obtained and analyzed these privacy policies using reading grade level (RGL) as a metric. Policies were further compared as a function of app category (free vs paid; entertainment vs social networking vs utility).


Analysis of privacy policies for these 64 apps revealed an average RGL of 12.78, which is well above the average reading level (8.0) of adults in the United States. There was also a small but statistically significant difference in word count as a function of app category (entertainment: 2546 words, social networking: 3493 words, and utility: 1038 words; P=.02).


Although users must agree to privacy policies to access digital tools and products, readability analyses suggest that these agreements are not comprehensible to most adults, let alone youth. We propose that stakeholders, including pediatricians and other health care professionals, play a role in educating youth and their guardians about the use of Web-based services and potential privacy risks, including the unintentional sharing of personal data.


adolescent; comprehension; mobile applications; privacy

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