Moms with Apps: Mobile privacy and the politics of apps for kids

Jun 2, 2011
Real estate

Lorraine Akemann is Editor at Moms With Apps, a collaborative group of family-friendly developers seeking to promote quality apps for kids and families. Moms With Apps was invited to attend a two-day session in Washington DC by the Association for Competitive Technology to discuss issues regarding proposed federal legislation for children’s online privacy in mobile […]

Lorraine Akemann is Editor at Moms With Apps, a collaborative group of family-friendly developers seeking to promote quality apps for kids and families. Moms With Apps was invited to attend a two-day session in Washington DC by the Association for Competitive Technology to discuss issues regarding proposed federal legislation for children’s online privacy in mobile apps. This session involved meetings on Capitol Hill with congressional staff in the House and the Senate, with Moms With Apps developers available to elaborate on trends in apps for kids, and the state of the kids app marketplace.

There is increased attention on children’s online privacy, especially as it relates to mobile apps. In May, U.S. Senator Rockefeller called a hearing with Apple, Google, Facebook, Common Sense Media, and the Association for Competitive Technology to explore how information is being shared in this mobile world:

“As the online world grows and evolves, the consumer privacy issues that we must address become more complex and the stakes get higher. We have a lot of work to do to make sure that consumers understand what information about them is being collected online. They should have the ability to control that information collection.”

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (or COPPA), prohibits operators of “websites and online services” from knowingly collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13 years of age without parental consent. A pressing issue is whether COPPA should apply to, or be amended for, mobile apps. The thought of increased government oversight and legislation is concerning to app developers who are trying to compete in this new market. Some feel they’ll be edged out by big business just from the legal costs required for compliance to new laws. In parallel, parents have their plates full trying to decipher parental controls on the latest mobile gadget. We all need to think harder about what “privacy” means as mobile technologies evolve into a ubiquitous presence in the palm of our hands. How should app developers who publish content for kids act responsibly? How much independence should parents give their kids with mobile media while trying to safeguard their privacy? Points to ponder for kids’ app developers:

  • Do you have a privacy policy? Is it clearly written and accessible?
  • Do you have features in your app that might take your customers by SURPRISE?
  • Does your app include internet connectivity, geo-location, push notifications, advertisements, and/or data collection, tracking or analytics? If so, do you let parents know why the app requires these features?
  • Can parents make an informed choice about your product based on your app description?
  • Are you familiar with COPPA and how it might relate to your app?
  • Are you familiar with the Code of Ethics for Publishers of Interactive Media, drafted by the Children’s Technology Review?
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Parents, are you up to speed with technology?

  • Are you aware of the settings on your smartphone that help customize the features of your phone? (For iPhone: Settings > General > Restrictions).
  • Do the apps you download contain hyperlinks that connect to other websites? Are you OK with the other websites the app is connecting to?
  • Does your child know your iTunes password?
  • Are your location services turned on or off?
  • Do the apps you download enable registration to online communities with your consent?
  • Are App Store rating systems, and app descriptions, giving you enough information to make informed choices?

As apps become clever and more customized, we walk a fine line between enhancing and infringing upon the user experience. It helps to be a “Mom With App” developer because we can see the debate from both points of view: as a parent-consumer who wants to protect their children online, and as an independent-developer creating products for this new marketplace.

As described by the San Francisco Chronicle over the weekend: “As an industry, we need to be open and honest about how we use data and we also have to help consumers understand the benefits of how their data is being used”.

The beauty of the kids’ apps marketplace is that many of the developers who are closest to the child, are creating for the child. Mom and Pop developers are succeeding alongside big companies like Disney. This type of product diversity contributes to consumer choice, and enables new opportunities for small businesses to play a role in our recovering economy. Now, can we all work together to handle the responsibility?

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Check out Lorraine Akemann’s Appolicious App Library here.

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Lorraine Akemann

Lorraine Akemann is cofounder of Moms With Apps, a network of family-friendly developers for the iPhone and iPad. After creating her own kids app, she recognized the need for collaborative cross-marketing with other app developers to help gain exposure in the App Store marketplace. Moms With Apps launched in November of 2009 and has grown to represent over 300 independent iOS developers. Her purpose of growing the network is to provide marketing support for developers, to be a resource for parents and teachers who are looking for educational apps, and to advocate healthy intersections of kids and technology. Prior to forming Moms With Apps, Lorraine worked in education marketing at Cisco Systems. She holds a BA in Communication along with a Masters in Business Administration.

Visit Lorraine Akemann's Appolicious profile here.

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