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AppCon attendees make case for CS education in Washington

This week, ACT | The App Association member companies came to Washington, D.C. for AppCon – our annual conference on the app economy. For three days, attendees heard from Congressional leaders, the U.S. Trade Representative, and industry experts on the biggest issues impacting the internet economy. They shared their stories in over 125 meetings with their elected representatives in Congress and officials from federal agencies.

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App Devs to Pay $360K for violating COPPA

The Federal Trade Commission took an important step to uphold COPPA with its first enforcement action under the rule against Retro Dreamer and LAI Systems, LLC for unlawfully collecting information from children under 13.

Today’s decision shows that everyone in this space must be transparent about how they protect children’s privacy. Since going into effect on July 1, 2013, the vast majority of companies around the world have spent countless hours working to comply with the FTC regulation.

Every member of Know What’s Inside has done the right thing to protect children’s privacy by following the rule and being transparent about what’s inside of their apps. All companies that participate in Know What’s Inside are transparent about what’s inside their apps including things like data collection and advertising.

Part of protecting children’s privacy is educating technology companies on how to follow laws like COPPA and FERPA. Know What’s Inside includes over 500 companies that agree to a set of best practices to follow COPPA and be transparent about their data practices. Parents and educators use Know What’s Inside to find technology that, at-a-glance, is clear about what happens inside the app.


December 17, 2015; By Sara Kloek

Originally posted on Medium

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European Data Proposals Place EU Teens Behind Their Peers Around the World

Since 2012, European regulators have been working on the European General Data Protection Regulation (DPR). Proposed drafts have required companies who offer “information society services directly to a child” from processing the personal data of a child under the age of 13 unless consent is given by a parent. This means if a child wants to use an online service like Club Penguin, the parent would need to give consent before the child is able to use the service. Formalizing this requirement in the EU would harmonize the age of consent for children across the market as well as strengthen existing privacy protections for citizens under the age of 13.

A last minute change to the proposal has raised the age of consent to 16. This change was made without soliciting input from stakeholders, including privacy-focused organizations like Know What’s Inside or child safety organizations. A change of this magnitude should have been given sufficient time to be discussed in public, to allow child safety experts and other stakeholders to provide their input based on years of experience studying best practices pertaining to children’s use of online services.

For well over a decade, people over the age of 13 have been able to access online services for schoolwork, news, or to express opinions on the issues of the day. This proposal would radically change these freedoms for EU teens. While young people in other parts of the world will be fully participating online, EU children would need to make their parents jump through hoops to give consent for the majority of websites and apps to which they currently have access.

There’s no doubt that this change would dramatically reduce young people’s use of informative websites and apps. Existing parental consent mechanisms are 20th century technology, at best. Imagine a child asking her parent for permission each time she needed to use a search engine or an informational website to do a school research project. Even the most involved parents would find this onerous, and it would represent a significant burden on working parents.

What’s worse, the shift in the age of consent may further encourage children to misrepresent their ages, often without their parents’ knowledge. This will be a missed opportunity for parents and children have an open conversation about good digital citizenship.

At Know What’s Inside, a community of over 500 companies that agree to a set of best practices on privacy and transparency for children’s apps, our members work hard to provide information at-a-glance about what is inside technology used by kids. Our members pride themselves on protecting children’s privacy but also providing children opportunities for the latest, most innovative products. Regulations that substantially disrupt the existing norms in the marketplace will cause more harm than intended. We urge regulators to reconsider the amendments made without input from stakeholders, to listen to the outcry of experienced online child safety organizations, and to allow young Europeans, just like their peers around the world, to access the online tools necessary to become good global citizens.

By Sara Kloek

Originally posted on Medium

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Responding to the President’s Call for Student Privacy

President Obama recently called on Congress to take steps to protect the privacy of elementary and secondary school students. He also announced that 75 companies, including Microsoft and Apple, have signed a pledge to use data collected from students only for educational purposes and to avoid using data collected to target advertising to those students.

President Obama said, “Michelle and I are like parents everywhere — we want to make
sure our children are being safe and smart online.” A recent survey of parents from Moms With Apps confirmed just that. When searching for apps for their kids, 90 percent of parents look for those that protect their child’s privacy, and 86 percent of those parents worry about apps collecting their child’s personal information.

As Congress considers legislation, they must not forget the economic boom coming from innovation in the educational technology space. We’ve already seen billions of dollars invested in classroom and at-home educational and development technology — and that will only continue.

Innovators and investors are not the only ones seeing the benefits of educational technology. Parents, too, see the benefit with over 96 percent of parents surveyed believing apps are beneficial to their child’s education and development.

And, it’s not just parents who are on board — educators agree. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that teachers who regularly use digital games in the classroom report improvements in their students’ core and supplemental skills. However, as we’ve seen in recent years, the pace of lawmakers does not keep pace with that of innovators. While legislation is likely to be considered, passage is not guaranteed and even then not likely to go into effect for many months.

What can parents and educators do right now to find beneficial technology that also protects a child’s personal information?

Of the parents Moms With Apps surveyed, 49 percent report that the process of deciphering app privacy settings that may or may not disclose this type of data collection is “moderately” to “very hard.” Taking steps to safeguard your child’s privacy shouldn’t be difficult. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Look for apps that clearly disclose their privacy policy. (If the policy is particularly hard to find, take that as a warning sign that you might not like its provisions.)

2. Never allow your childre to lie about their age when an app requires the user to be 13 or up.  There’s a reason for the age gate; it gives parents more control of their child’s data.

3. If the app costs nothing, determine exactly why it is free. Many free apps will use advertising to help support the cost of the development of the app. If you are not comfortable with your child seeing ads while playing a game, think twice about whether that free app is really “free.”

4. Get cozy with the settings on your phone and your child’s device. You can turn off Internet access, app store access, in-app purchasing, and other popular features before your child uses the device.

5. Teach your children about privacy — make it a family conversation. Kids should always think twice before entering their name, date of birth, email address, and other personal information.

6. Find a trusted source to help you discover great apps for your kids. Moms With Apps provides information about app features like data collection, in-app purchases, and connection to social networking and makes searching for apps for kids quick and easy.

Privacy is important but so is helping kids develop new skills, learn about the world, and have fun. When it comes to apps, a little knowledge can go a long way for both parents and for kids.


Image: Hero Images via Getty Images

; By Sara Kloek

Originally posted on Huffington Post

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Apps and Autism

Last week, NPR’s Morning Edition featured a story about a Queens school for children within the autism spectrum that use iPads in class and to play in their high school band.

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The Pros and Cons of Schools Using the Cloud

A study released Friday by Fordham University, “Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools,” raises concerns about whether schools are asking the right questions about the privacy of student data stored remotely. One issue that received particular attention is paid to third-party cloud services that store student records.

What is clear from the study’s findings is that school systems find tremendous value in online educational resources. 95 percent of schools surveyed are taking advantage of cloud-based services that allow teachers and administrators to better serve students and their families.

Homework can be assigned and completed online where it is unlikely to be eaten by the family dog. Parents and teachers can better monitor their students’ progress to help them reach higher academic achievement while mobile applications are helping to modernize classrooms providing an interactive learning environment.

It used to be that parents learned about their children’s school performance a few times a year through report cards or PTA meetings. Advances in online education now allow for student achievement or challenges to be spotted early on, helping to assess where additional work is needed. Administrators can use anonymized data to measure school performance and quickly identify successful coursework and methods.

We see the greatest impact on student performance when teachers, parents, and schools are all engaged. The hallmark of the new digital classroom is the improved ability to manage and assess a student’s work while facilitating interaction between parents and educators to help guide a child’s progress. Yet the promise of these new technologies may be lost if privacy concerns are not sufficiently addressed.

This is the key takeaway from the Fordham report. The clearest indication of where improvements can be made are in the contracts that school systems have with cloud providers. Researchers discovered that schools are often unaware of third party contractors’ use of student data. In many cases, school contracts with online service providers lack clear guidance for safeguarding this information as required under federal law.

The Fordham study recommends that schools be clear with online service providers about the strict requirements that exist for managing student information. It also suggests that school administrators should be transparent about this process so that parents are aware of these services and the appropriate care is given to children’s privacy.

One example of how transparency can work is found in the Know What’s Inside™ program. This collaborative effort between ACT and the 1500-member group of parent app makers, Moms With Apps, puts a premium on data use transparency. The initiative highlights companies that adopt strong privacy standards for children’s education apps and provides a trusted resource for parents with mobile devices.

When parents start from an informed position about how their child’s sensitive information will be safeguarded in accordance with the law, they are far more likely to embrace the benefits that cloud services offer. Initiatives like Know What’s Inside™ demonstrate the importance of taking the first step to provide this reassurance by identifying and promoting industry best practices.

It is critical to the success of cloud education that online service providers explain how they meet the privacy standards for student data. They must also clearly convey this information to school administrators who will face questions from parents on this issue. Taking proactive steps like these will give parents and schools the continued confidence to employ these resources that hold such promise for our children’s education.


By Morgan Reed

Originally posted on Huffington Post

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3 Lessons Mobile App Developers Can Take from the Path Fiasco

If you read tech news, you undoubtedly heard about the privacy fiasco involving Path and the revelation that the app was collecting and storing address data from iPhones—unbeknownst to the users. Morgan Reed, the executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology, talked with Innov8rs Network and tells what happened, and what lessons app developers can learn from Path’s story.

Here’s the deal: Path, a social networking app, was taking data from address books on iOS devices and not telling customers how or what was being collected, or how that information was being used.

This resulted in news stories and blog posts labeling Path as some sort of privacy scofflaws when, in fact, what they were doing isn’t unique and the method wasn’t particularly invasive. Other apps collect similar data in “find your friends” features, but the problem here is that Path made an assumption about customers’ knowledge and behavior—if you’re finding my friends for me, you’ve got to be getting that information from somewhere–and I think we all know the old adage about what happens when you assume.

The issue, as Reed points out, is that’s an assumption that a designer makes and not one that a consumer makes. So what’s the lesson here for designers and developers?

1. You own the relationship between your app and your customer. Be transparent with your customers. Have a clear, accessible privacy policy letting them know if/how your app collects data from them, and how that data is used. Don’t assume that they know.

2. Every time you update the app, review that policy and make sure it’s still applicable.  This is especially important for app developers who are not writing code themselves. Put the changes on your website, on your listing in the store(s) and have a pop-up on the app telling consumers about any changes. An informed customer is the best kind, and generally not a problem.

3. In the apps economy, you’ll often be putting together many disparate parts to make something great. If there are third parties involved in your apps, be sure that you know what information is being shared or collected by those SDKs or APIs.

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How Concerned Should App Developers be about Getting a Lodsys Nastygram?

Many in the mobile development community, particularly those who develop for iOS, have read stories about Lodsys, Apple, their patent disagreement(s), and potential lawsuits from Lodsys.  We talked with IP and business attorney Rob Cogan of Continuum Law about this situation and how mobile developers should proceed.  An audicast of the conversation will follow, but here are the main points to consider:

First, understand that the Lodsys patents in question are generally related to commercial websites where the site can gather feedback from its users of the website. This may also apply to mobile apps and, Lodsys claims, in app purchases.  Lodsys has four patents and their summary is that the patents are directed toward sites that offer a product or service, and functionality that is used to interact with and gather feedback from users of those products or services, and transmit information to the provider. That’s pretty broad. When it comes down to it, any mobile app has an interaction. The qualifier is to “gather information from the users.” Buying something probably does not qualify. But if you’re using a questionnaire online, that likely puts you in Lodsys’s crosshairs.

There’s no critical detail to consider here. The only real critical consideration is whether Lodsys thinks you’re stepping on their turf, and that’s solely up to their discretion.  This isn’t something  where we have specific answers, but only generalities. Try not to think about it in strict legal terms. It’s really about business exposure—do you think Lodsys could go after you? In that way, the specific claims don’t matter. Don’t worry about whether it’s possible, probable, and/or “right” for you to get sued in this area –in the U.S. anyone can sue for just about anything.

So far, Lodsys has sued some big companies: Best Buy. The New York Times. Small developers, it seems, have just received information packages notifying them of infringement (i.e., “nastygrams”).

If you receive one of these nastygra… Err, “information packages” there are a couple of things you should think about from the outset.

Read it, see what they’re saying, and then put it aside and don’t worry about it for a day or two. Whatever it says will not make sense at first. Come back to it later, and you’ll probably understand what they’re asking for. In many cases, Lodsys is asking for 0.575% of U.S. revenue until patents expire. If the developer is doing $1 M revenue, that’s $5,750—does that fit within your margins? Don’t try to play lawyer, but stick to the business side. Your goal is to stay in business, right? Can you do so after getting a packet from Lodsys? Most likely the answer is yes. You may feel that what they’re doing is wrong, but if you can pay and still have a profit margin and stay in business, that’s good.  Can you stay on the sidelines and below the radar? NYT and Foresee have sued Lodsys saying that the patents are invalid—and they can do that because they’re big companies. You probably can’t. Does it fit within your margins to just stay under the radar and not turn this in to a Big Deal?

The only thing you really can do, legally, is to consult counsel. Knowing that small developers can’t afford that, look at the letter for facts—what they’re accusing you of, what are the specifics, what they’re asking for—and present that to counsel. If you have a pretty good understanding of the situation, you can probably get a useful business answer from counsel easily (and affordably). One likely possibility is to read through the information and ask counsel “if I sign this and pay them, will that allow me to do my business without further interference?” That might be the most cost-effective and cost-justified way to go.  If it’s $2 a week to make it go away, is that worth it?

If you’re developing for iOS, should you continue doing so? What functionality should you take out to avoid being on the receiving end of a Lodsys “information package”?

For the most part, it doesn’t matter because it’s not what you’re doing, it’s what Lodsys believes that you’re doing and they are acting based on that. You shouldn’t base your business plan or business decisions on whether the media accounts of all of this are true.

But what if it’s just the tip of the iceberg? Maybe additional companies will start going after mobile app developers.

The concern from small developers about this environment is understandable. Many are starting to say that this means they won’t develop for iOS any longer because the legal uncertainty makes it unworthy their time to invest and innovate in that space.

There have been other patent enforcement campaigns in other industries, and generally it hasn’t happened that other non-practicing entities have come forward.

Business considerations are key. Forget additional non-operating patent holding companies. What is the cost-benefit analysis?  If you’ve already made back your initial investment, would this actually put you out of business? Even if the number, letter, and agreement seem like something you can deal with, make sure you have a lawyer look at it anyway. Make sure that what you see is right.

Think about this, too: non-practicing entities probably won’t sue someone who doesn’t have the money to pay them (e.g., small developers).

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Nokia Is Getting Pummeled … But It’s Not as Bad As it Looks

Earnings season is upon us and its already rocking the mobile world.  Apple reported a ridiculous quarter yesterday.  Microsoft reported a fantastic quarter today.  And, Nokia…they took a bruising.

In fact, for the first time ever, Apple shipped more smartphones worldwide than Nokia.

“Nokia says it sold 16.7 million smartphones in the previous quarter (April through June). During that same time, Apple sold over 20 million iPhones.”

There is no question this is a new low for Nokia, but ReadWriteWeb nailed it with its analysis:

“If anything, this remarkable (but expected) turn of events further proves that Nokia was right to pick a new direction for its company. Symbian has not been an attractive enough offering to lure smartphone users away from their iPhones and Androids.”

To make matters worse, Nokia’s pre-announced move  from Symbian and to Windows Phone 7 probably contributed to this rapid decline.  So, in many ways this decline was preordained and the end of 2011/early 2012 will be the important indicators for Nokia’s future.  The only real question, is whether Nokia’s decision to go with WP7 instead of peeing in its pants for warmth was the right one.

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5/17 Event in DC: Intel’s Genevieve Bell Discusses Secrets to UX Design

It’s been a long time since our last DC-based event, but this one was worth the wait. On May 17, Innovators Network will be hosting a discussion with Intel’s Genevieve Bell, their in-house anthropologist and one of the world’s foremost experts on user experience design. Dr. Bell will cover the basics of user experience design and how technology companies of any size can employ them to improve the value of their products to users.

Building on her article in the Wall Street Journal Europe, she will also discuss the evolving role of 2nd screens (mobile phones and tablets) and how they will change the future of television and story telling.


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