Mobile Apps, Privacy and Hidden Legal Risks

I understand the problems with developing apps for the mobile space and getting enough market penetration to make your efforts worthwhile.  I also understand that additional steps in the process, like talking with a lawyer, slows you down.  This may be a case of pay now, or pay more later.

Privacy First

Your app is collecting data, either natively or through the various reports you are getting from the marketplaces.  Things like crash reports are enough that they will make you liable under any variety of privacy laws.  While most non-lawyers will think that personal information only includes name and address, the law’s view of it is much more expansive.  Information like IP address, geolocation information, user names, and the like can be considered personal information.  Identifying information about the user’s mobile can also be considered personal if you can identify the user over time.

If your app attracts a large number of child users, your obligations are much more expansive, as well as the processes you need to put in place.  If your app is truly about an adult subject you may be able to say that children don’t use your app.  However, the recent changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) are expanding whether your app was directed for that audience.  If your app attracts a large percentage of child users, you are liable under the provisions of COPPA.  If during data collection, you know (or I would say should know) that you are collecting data from children you will be held to the provisions of COPPA, including the liability of it.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled with Path concerning their collection of personal data from users without consent.  What was more interesting was the $800,000 fine regarding the collection of personal data from children without consent.  FTC Settlement Press Release.  I don’t know what their terms looked like before the settlement, but their current privacy policy use the boilerplate of “our service is not directed to children under 13.”  That will not save you.  Do you have a spare $800,000 laying around to pay the FTC?  I didn’t think so.

Privacy is not hard, folks.  It really isn’t.  Start from what information you need to operate your service.  Don’t collect more than that.  Determine how to best collect it and protect it.  Build processes to implement that.  Write a privacy policy that makes sense and embodies these principles.  Then adhere to what you wrote.  If you want to do something with their information, ask a user what they think about that and pay attention to what they say.

Copyright Problems as Well

If your app has a feedback mechanism, including ratings and reviews on the marketplaces, you need to make sure that you have full right and title to that feedback.  A user may provide you a killer feature in their feedback that you implement.  Make sure you can use it.  The large majority of your users are just trying to help you out, and themselves in the process.  But there are those out there that may be trying to catch you in a trap.  Okay, there are not all that many of them.  With a few turns of phrase in your terms you can protect yourself.  An ounce of protection is worth a pound of lawsuits.

Lawyers Are Not the Enemy

Here at SoLoMoLegal and SoLoMo Law we believe that the right lawyers can help you with your business.  Think of them as hedges against future risk.  Since we have seen, or heard, companies or individuals have issues in the past, our experience can help you plan around those landmines.  Even when you are skirting up to the edge, we can help you understand what your risks are and you can take them with eyes wide open.  Yes, we are a cost up front, but it will be a fraction of what it will cost you down the road if you get it wrong.


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