California’s Mobile App Crack Down

Comparing the mobile app marketplace to the “Wild West” is something people like to do, presumably because that marketplace seems to be characterized by chaos and lawlessness.  Much of the lawlessness is due to the fact that in an industry as new as this, many of the laws have yet to be written.  As entrepreneurs and developers test the boundaries of what’s profitable versus what’s ethical, however – at times resorting to “bribery, porn and spam”, according to Wired – some steps are being taken to protect consumers and keep the playing field level.

Last week in California, for example, both the public and private sectors reacted to abuses to the mobile app honor code and attempted to clamp down.  The first involved an exploit in Apple’s app store.  It turns out that there was a brief period after Apple’s official approval of a mobile app wherein the developer could update the app’s screenshots, and a few unscrupulous developers were using the exploit to upload jazzy, exciting screenshots that weren’t actually produced by the app itself.  As a result, Apple staffers now have to review all screenshots prior to their being uploaded to the app store.

On the public side, California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a series of guidelines collectively entitled “Privacy on the Go” (.pdf) exhorting developers to make the privacy policies in their mobile apps clear, conspicuous, and up front.  Having already convinced Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and other app store operators to agree to a set of privacy principles, Harris demonstrated how far she’s willing to go when companies don’t see things her way.  A statute already exists that governs privacy policies on traditional web sites, and Harris’s interpretation of that statute includes mobile app developers as well.  She’s even gone so far as to file suit against Delta Airlines, one of the few mobile app developers not to comply with the privacy guidelines.

So thus far it appears as though the “Wild West” might have a new sheriff in town.  We certainly hope that as these legal struggles play out over the next few months, consumers and developers alike will find themselves on a level playing field.

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