Apple and Google Poised to Revive Competition for Kids Gaming Apps

Becky Doles

This week, the news has been full of important announcements from both the Obama Administration and the private sector that touch on privacy and security. However, Apple’s announcement yesterday, that they plan to create a “Games for Kids” section of the app store, is particularly significant for mobile app developers and marketers. Google also recently announced that it has plans to create products and services for kids. The support of these two platforms will be critical to reinvigorating competition in for kids gaming apps.

The unintended consequences of COPPA

Competition for kids gaming apps has decreased significantly after revisions to COPPA – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – came into effect in July 2013. For kids apps, and kids gaming apps that depend on ad revenue, the COPPA revisions dealt a serious blow. Under COPPA, you must have verifiable parental consent or “VPC” – before targeting a child for behavioral advertising. Obtaining VPC is almost impossible if you aren’t consumer facing, and it remains a challenge for apps, because it halts the user flow – disrupting the in-app experience. Implementing a VPC mechanism can also be cost and resource intensive. As a result, many apps have yet to implement VPC and thus, cannot rely on revenue from targeted ads.

COPPA is triggered when you collect “personal data” as defined under the statute for behavioral advertising. Personal data includes email addresses, usernames and device or ad identifiers (which COPPA calls “persistent identifiers”). COPPA does contain an exception for contextual advertising, as well as an “operational” exception for data collected for conversion tracking, frequency tracking, attribution, fraud and security. For example, the collection of ad identifiers by MAT from a user’s device for attribution is not subject to COPPA’s requirements.

Apple & Google’s COPPA challenge

Both Apple and Google will now need to wrestle with these requirements and figure out to what extent they will enforce COPPA’s requirements within their respective platforms.

I’m interested to see how Apple tackles parental consent. In 2013, the company launched a “Kids” section in its app store and provides parental controls such as its “family sharing” feature to help parents and kids share content. To list your app in the “Kids” section, Apple requires proof of VPC, but does not provide a VPC mechanism that apps can easily integrate into the user experience. It’s unclear whether Apple will take the same approach for the “Game for Kids” section.

Creating a COPPA compliant experience that also engages kids will also be a foremost challenge for Google – because of the concerns with integrating VPC into the app experience, as noted above. Google does have somewhat of an advantage, since it could integrate VPC into its existing notice and consents for other Google services.

Now is a good time to figure out COPPA and privacy compliance

These developments remind us that it’s probably a good idea to revisit COPPA compliance. Even if your app isn’t kid directed, knowing that kids are on your site can trigger liability. And if you are a “mixed use” site, with both kid and adult audiences, then you need to think about implementing a compliant age gate. To learn more about COPPA, and the FTC’s recent focus on companies for COPPA violations, please check out our recent webinar.

And while you are looking at whether COPPA applies to you, another area to pay attention to is your privacy policy and notices. Back in December 2012, the FTC gave kids apps a low grade, finding that only 20% of the apps surveyed provided adequate notice about data collection for targeted advertising. It’s not clear what the figures would be like today. But regardless, it’s probably a good idea to be among the 20% (or more) that want to be transparent with users. This includes providing notice to parents and kids about what data you are collecting (and why), with whom you are sharing data, and how to opt out of data collection altogether.

The recent announcements by Apple and Google should be welcome news for kids apps, especially kids gaming apps. Creating these separate, kid-specific areas within their platforms will undoubtedly help to showcase and promote these apps from amongst the many thousands that are currently available in the app stores. For developers of these apps, these announcements should also serve as a reminder that it’s a good time to get your COPPA compliance in order, and also revisit your all important privacy policies and notices.

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Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she handled content strategy and marketing communications at several tech startups in the Bay Area. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned home to Charleston, SC, where you can find her strolling through Hampton Park with her pup and enjoying the simple things between adventures with friends and family.

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