April 12, 2013
The Federal Trade Commission has made changes to the COPPA laws in regards to the definition of a “children’s app.” Changes to the online privacy rules will go into effect July 1, with an emphasis on data collection practices, which could mean that requesting information or images from mobile devices could be viewed as a violation. Several developers are scaling back on game production in order to avoid being penalized by the FTC.
“The biggest problem: data-collection practices that have become routine in the app industry could run afoul of the new rules when used in kids’ apps,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
The shift to mobile devices has sparked the FTC to adopt the new amendment. Several gaming applications ask for information, and can track data, photos, and videos taken with tablets and smartphones. Before mobile devices, most sites restricted users under 13, but now almost any child can work a tablet or smartphone.
“This is all about trying to get the FTC to weaken common-sense safeguards to better protect kids’ privacy,” said Jeffrey Chester, an advocate for online privacy.
However, app developers rely on the information gathered from mobile devices in order make improvements and advertise properly to target audiences. This is a simpler, cost-effective way compared to running surveys of consumers in order to gain data. After the FTC changes go into effect, these developers can no longer use third parties in order to gain feedback.
Now some developers are looking for ways to collect data independently. App developers must also be careful as to how they market and design their apps, as they could be classified as a “kid’s app” and run into issues due to the law changes. Paws Inc., the rights owner of Garfield, is contacting various app developers that have licensed the character to make sure there is no confusion with the new changes. It is going to be several weeks before companies can sort out the details of the amended law and press forward.
“It would be a good idea to be aware of the rule if you’re designing an app that has cartoon characters in it,” said Peder Magee, an FTC attorney.