Apple to pay at least $32.5 million in refunds for accidental in-app purchases

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Apple has agreed to refund consumers whose children made in-app purchases in apps on iPhone and iPad, without parental consent. Apple will pay at least $32.5 million in refunds to settle a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC reports.

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Zynga’s annual shareholder meeting focuses on real-money gaming

Zynga script logoZynga today held its annual stockholders meeting in San Francisco, which heavily focused on the game company’s real-money gaming efforts, an anonymous shareholder told PandoDaily.

Zynga’s shareholder meeting comes one day after the company just laid off 18 percent of its staff (520 employees) and shut down three of its offices — Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York — including Omgpop‘s office. (more…)

FTC recommends new privacy guidelines for mobile app platforms and developers

The Federal Trade Commission today released a new report, which outlines recommendations for mobile platforms and mobile app developers across the country to better inform its users what personal data is being collected and how the data is being used. The report comes less than a month after the California Attorney General’s office released its own privacy guidelines for mobile app developers in the state.FTC logo

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who yesterday announced his resignation, said in a statement, “the mobile world is expanding and innovating at breathtaking speed, allowing consumers to do things that would have been hard to imagine only a few years ago. These best practices will help to safeguard consumer privacy and build trust in the mobile marketplace, ensuring that the market can continue to thrive.”

The FTC, the federal agency that oversees business practices, stated that mobile devices “facilitate unprecedented amounts of data collection” because users, for the most part, have their mobile device on and with them at most times. In an effort to improve mobile privacy disclosures, the FTC recommended platforms and developers provide privacy data disclosures to consumers before allowing an app to access sensitive content like geolocation and for other personal data such as photos, contacts or calendar entries.

The FTC also recommended that platforms consider implementing a version of Do Not Track (DNT), the privacy mechanism that allows users to prevent tracking by ad networks or other third parties. Multiple desktop web browsers already support DNT including Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari. Mozilla’s Firefox mobile browser has the DNT mechanism and Apple’s Safari has a “limited ad tracking” slider for iOS, but despite Mozilla’s and Apple’s DNT support on mobile, the privacy mechanism is not as standard on mobile as it is on desktops.

At the end of 2012, the FTC strengthened its more than a decade-old child online privacy laws, in particular, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The new laws require child-directed websites and online services to obtain parental consent before collecting children’s personal information like geolocation data or photos before sending the data off to third-party companies. Although, the updated rules explicitly exempt app “platforms” such as the Apple App Store and Google Play from complying with COPPA since the app stores only offer “public access” to kids’ apps, as opposed to targeting kids directly and exclusively.

California Attorney General’s office releases privacy guidelines for mobile app developers

The California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office released today an official set of privacy guidelines for the mobile app developers. The report calls for developers to post a standard privacy policy, use “special notices” to alert users when an app may be using data in a method the user may not expect, for example, when an app asks to use a user’s location, and use similar notices when an app collects other private information that may be deemed sensitive. This report is an effort to enforce the California Online Privacy Protection Act (OPPA), which went into effect in 2004 and requires mobile app developers that collect data about California users to “conspicuously post” its privacy policy that discloses what information is collected and how it will be used.California Attorney General Kamala Harris headshot

Notable recommendations in the 23-page report include app developers limiting data collection and retention, avoiding using global device identifiers that could be correlated across apps, using encryption to handle data, limiting access to users’ personal data by employees and designating an employee to occasionally review an app’s privacy practices to ensure that the policy remains up to date. Most of these recommendations are for mobile app developers, but there are some recommendations for other types of companies like app stores, advertising networks and wireless networks.

The state also asks for making privacy policies easier to read and understand. One solution the report suggests is presenting privacy information in format like  “grid or ‘nutrition label for privacy’ format that displays your privacy practices by data type.’”

Keep in mind that these suggestions are, in the end, just suggestions. The authority to regulate mobile data practices in California still falls under OPPA. Most of the suggestions from the AG’s report actually aren’t even in OPPA. So long as a mobile app developers write a privacy policy that accurately describes their data practices and post it somewhere in the app where a user can easily find it, then the developer is in the clear. The Federal Trade Commission recently updated its decade-old child online privacy laws, but explicitly exempted app “platforms” such as the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Assistant Attorney General Travis Leblanc told Ars Technica that the state plans to follow up on the report with training sessions in the spring, targeting smaller developers that don’t have the budget to hire full-time privacy experts to scribe privacy policies. Le Blanc added that the state expected to file another lawsuit in the next month or two against a mobile app developer that had failed to comply with OPPA’s conspicuous privacy polly requirements.

The Association for Competitive Technology executive director, and founder of ACT 4 Apps, Morgan Reed spoke out in support of these efforts.

“ACT appreciates the Attorney General’s ongoing efforts to improve app privacy awareness, said Reed, in a statement. We are encouraged by the AG’s emphasis on non-legislative efforts, like developer and consumer education to improve the mobile ecosystem. The introduction of the ACT 4 Apps Initiative will expand ACT’s efforts to raise developer awareness and engagement in app privacy and data transparency. Development of best practices is essential to support continued innovation and growth in the app marketplace.”

ACT, the advocacy and educational organization, introduced App Privacy Icons in October 2012 in an effort to provide consumers and developers with information regarding privacy settings and features of apps.

FTC updates child online privacy laws, exempts mobile apps

The Federal Trade Commission today updated its child online privacy laws that haven’t been updated in more than a decade, creating new guidelines that improve children’s online privacy.FTC logo

Child-directed websites and online services will now have to obtain parental consent before collecting children’s personal information such as geolocation data, photos, videos, audio files or online behavior before sending the data to third-party companies.

The definition of a website or online service will expand to include third-party “plug-ins” on websites — for example, Facebook’s Like button — or ad networks that have “actual knowledge” that they are collecting  through a child-directed website or online service.

The particular law the FTC made changes to was the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa), an Act the FTC initiated a review of in 2010 to ensure it stayed up-to-date in this ever-evolving world of technology — especially with the rise of mobile devices and social networks.

The new rules explicitly exempt app “platforms” like the Apple App Store and Google Play from complying with Coppa because they only offer “public access” to kids’ apps, as opposed to targeting kids directly and exclusively.

“The Commission takes seriously its mandate to protect children’s online privacy in this ever-changing technological landscape,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. “I am confident that the amendments to the Coppa Rule strike the right balance between protecting innovation that will provide rich and engaging content for children, and ensuring that parents are informed and involved in their children’s online activities.”

The Coppa Rule, which Congress passed in 1998, required kids’ websites or online services to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13 years old, but the technology landscape has dramatically changed since then.

The FTC, the federal agency that oversees business practices, will continue to allow websites or online services to collect children’s personal information for internal use, so long as the website or online service obtains parental consent via email.

Last week, the FTC released a report that found hundreds of kids’ apps that were acquiring data without parental consent.

The amendments to the Coppa Rule will go into effect on July 1, 2013.

Update: 6waves, Spry Fox settle Triple Town cloning suit

6waves has chosen to settle the cloning lawsuit brought against it by Triple Town creator Spry Fox. The details of the settlement were not disclosed.

The news comes less than a month after a Seattle court denied 6waves’ request to dismiss the suit, stating the games were similar enough in both concept and visual presentation for Spry Fox’s case to proceed.

Game Politics has obtained a copy of the court filing dated Oct. 10, 2012. It reads:

The Court has been notified that the parties have reached a settlement in this matter. If the parties have not submitted a stipulation and proposed order of dismissal or a voluntary dismissal by 10/26/2012, the Court may enter its standard order of dismissal. Should additional time be needed to perfect settlement, the parties are directed to contact the in-court deputy.

Spry Fox originally filed suit against 6waves in January, alleging the publisher arranged to have a clone of Triple Town called Yeti Town created, despite the fact that the two companies had signed a non-disclosure agreement while they were negotiating a publishing agreement for the game on Facebook and mobile. Yeti Town was developed by Escalation Studios and published by 6waves in December 2011. In January 2012 6waves acquired the Dallas-based developer, further complicating the case.

In the original suit Spry Fox called for an injunction against Yeti Town, damages up to $100,000 and any profits 6waves earned from the game in an amount no less than $500,000. 6waves’ decision to settle the case out of court is unsurprising, not only because of the recent developments in the case — while allegations of cloning may be common in the game industry, jury trials are not. Most publishers choose to settle out of court.

UPDATE: Spry Fox co-founder David Edery responds with the following statement:

“As several news outlets have already discovered, we have amicably settled our lawsuit with 6waves. We are very happy with the outcome and glad to be finished with this matter. The full terms of the settlement are confidential, but I can disclose that as a consequence of the settlement, ownership of the Yeti Town IP has been transferred to Spry Fox. We look forward to putting 100% of our time and energy into our games, like the upcoming Leap Day, Steambirds 2 and Panda Poet mobile.”

Mobile app news roundup: Apple, Kontagent and Capcom

Apple Hits 25 billion downloads — Apple’s App Store has now passed 25 billion downloads. The 25 billionth app was the Lite version of Disney’s Where’s My Water, downloaded by Chinese customer Chunli Fu, reports Pocketgamer.

GDC attendance up 17 percent — The 2012 Game Developer’s Conference set a new attendance record, attracting more than 22,500 attendees, up 17 percent year-on-year. Unlike previous years, mobile and social developers were a large presence at the event, with companies like GREE and Wooga well represented with prominent sponsorships.

Capcom expects 50 percent of revenue to come from digital within five years — Capcom is planning to see digitally distributed games make up the bulk of its profits and revenues by 2017, reports Gamasutra. The outlet interviewed Capcom’s SVP Christian Svensson at GDC last week, who revealed the company expects to move away from a retail-dependent model.

DeNA signs Chinese partnership to bring Mobage to Weibo – DeNA continues its push into China, signing a deal with SINA, the operator of Weibo.com, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter. All Weibo members will now be able to log into DeNA’s Mobage network using their existing Weibo accounts. Weibo will also add a link to the Mobage platform inside its Android app.

iSwifter brings PC game streaming to mobile — Menlo Park-based iSwifter now supports live streaming of both PC and flash games to iOS and Android devices.

Big Fish Games buys Self Aware Games, revenues up 30 percent year-on-year — Seattle’s Big Fish Games announced last week its revenues are up 30 percent year-on-year, the ninth year in a row its revenues have increased. The company also announced it acquired Oakland-based Self Aware Games. The purchase amount was not disclosed.

Microsoft, Onlive in licensing dispute over OnLive Desktop apps — Microsoft has come out on record, stating that OnLive’s Desktop apps, which allow users to stream Microsoft office to iPads and Android tablets break its terms of service. OnLive has refused to comment on the matter.

China Mobile passes 15 million iPhone customers — China Mobile now has 15 million customers with iPhones, even though the company’s 3G network does not yet support the iPhone, reports Tech in Asia.

Draw Something passes 20 million downloads — OMGPOP’s breakout mobile hit Draw Something has now been downloaded more than 20 million times, reports Business Insider. The app is generating daily revenues in the six-figure range, according to OMGPOP’s CEO Dan Porter.

Apple pushes back new iPad shipment dates — Apple has pushed back the shipment date for the new iPad from Mar. 16 to Mar. 19 in the US and delayed UK and Canadian shipping estimates to “2 to 3 weeks”.  While this likely indicates Apple’s online store is sold out of the devices, retail shops will still have the device on the original Mar. 16 date, reports The Next Web.

Kontagent reports 500 percent revenue growth year-on-year — Kontagent is reporting its revenues increased 5-fold in 2011. The company’s analytics platform now reaches 150 million monthly active users in more than 1000 apps.

Crytek gets into mobile games with physics puzzler — Crytek, the developer largely known for its first-person shooter titles and its high-end CryEngine platform, has revealed its first mobile game will be a physics puzzler called Fibble Flick Rock ‘n’ Roll, according to Pocket Gamer.

2012 Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards winners announced – Canadian developer Capy Games has won the award for best Handheld/Mobile Game at the Game Developers Choice Awards, taking home the prize for its game Sword & Sworcery EP. Simogo’s Beat Sneak Bandit was awarded the prize of Best Mobile Game at the Independent Games Festival. Both awards were given out last week at the GDC.

[Funding] Tap.Me closes $3.2 million in funding – Mobile app monetization company Tap.Me has closed a $3.2 million dollar round of funding lead by Hyde Park Ventures. The company has also added industry vet Jeffrey Lapin (Atari, Take-Two Interactive, THQ) to its board of directors and signed up Canadian developer Fluik, makers of the Office Jerk series of apps.

Spry Fox sues 6waves Lolapps over Triple Town iOS clone

Indie developer Spry Fox has filed suit against developer-publisher 6waves Lolapps in Seattle, WA district court, alleging that the company deliberately cloned Spry Fox’s Triple Town even as discussions continued between the two companies to publish the game on Facebook and iOS. Spry Fox is asking for an injunction against the clone called Yeti Town, damages up to $100,000 and any profits from 6waves Lolapps gained from Yeti Town in an amount no less than $500,000.

The complaint (downloadable here) lays out the timeline of events as follows:

  • July 2011: 6waves – acting in conjunction with Lolapps prior to the merger – signs a non-disclosure agreement with Spry Fox as part of negotiations to publish the game on Facebook and possibly mobile.
  • October 2011: Spry Fox self-publishes on Facebook, files with United States Copyright Office.
  • December 2011: 6waves Lolapps breaks off negotiations with Spry Fox on the same day that Yeti Town is released in Apple’s App Store.

On its blog, Spry Fox explains that as part of the publishing negotiations, 6waves had access to Spry Fox’s private beta months before the game’s release (hence the NDA). The developer believed that negotiations were progressing while Yeti Town was being developed. This makes the cloning doubly egregious in Spry Fox’s eyes, and “we can not, in good conscience, ignore it.”

6waves Lolapps is sending out an emailed statement to press outlets seeking comment. We’ll publish as soon as the statement is made available. Note that given the timeline above, 6waves Lolapps could claim ignorance of cloning as Yeti Town was developed by Escalation Studios and released on iOS before 6waves Lolapps acquired Escalation. We observe that when Escalation’s own site was live before the acquisition, Yeti Town wasn’t at all advertised while all its other iOS games were.

To the larger point of cloning, we know that this is not the first — and probably not the last — time a developer’s game is ripped off by a studio looking to publish said developer’s game. Whether or not an NDA is signed often doesn’t matter as few developers are prepared to go to court over a clone, especially when it could put its resources toward developing a new game instead of paying a lawyer. In general, when fingers are pointed over too-similar games, it is the habit of publishers to settle the cases out of court.

UPDATE: 6waves Lolapps responds with the following statement.
“6waves Lolapps is disappointed that David Edery has chosen to file a lawsuit, and believes his claims are factually inaccurate. We respect others’ IP and did nothing to violate any contracts our team had in place. The copyright infringement claims are unjustified.”

This story originally appeared on our sister site, Inside Social Games.

Mobile Marketing Association unveils free, generic privacy policy for mobile developers

Mobile developers now have a free, generic privacy policy to use when creating their apps.

Developed by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), a non-profit trade association for mobile marketers, the Mobile Application Privacy Policy is a plain-language policy for developers to adapt and use as they see fit.

There are still lingering concerns about how mobile apps use and share personal data. About a year or so ago, The Wall Street Journal published a series of stories lambasting apps like Pandora for passing on data to ad networks and partners. This is a way for developers and the MMA to be proactive about heading off such concerns. The MMA is touting the policy as a first of its kind document, created with input from the development community and designed to address what it calls the “core privacy issues” of the industry today.

The MMA is marketing the privacy policy as a jumping off point for developers, and makes it clear the policy — a generic document with fill in the blank instructions — isn’t sufficient to cover every type of application. Developers using the policy as a model are encouraged to seek legal advice before rolling it out to the public.

Coming in at a relatively scant six pages with notes, the policy covers privacy basics such as: what data an app may collect (including location information, device ID, and operating system), how data is being used, how a company uses information provided by users, how a company might provide user information to third parties, a user’s opt out rights, data retention, general security, how the policy affects children under 13 and how changes may be made to the privacy policy.

The policy also makes it clear that its up to developers to detail the exact functionality of their app and provide users with what the MMA calls a “clear, illustrative list of the most important data points obtained by each app.”

The policy was authored by the MMA Privacy and Advocacy Committee, a group within the MMA that counts a variety of mobile advertising players such as InMobi, JumpTap, Millennial Media as members, but also includes industry players like Microsoft, Yahoo and advertisers like Procter & Gamble, Unilever and MTV Networks.

Developers interested in using the policy can download it here.

Inside Mobile Apps – The Year in News

It may seem obvious at this point, but 2011 was a big year for mobile developers, bringing as much upheaval as it did opportunity.

When reviewing our most popular stories of 2011, its clear that what mattered most to our readers was the business of creating a profitable, popular mobile app — more than half of our most popular stories this year concerned monetization, downloads or user acquisition tactics. Other stories that attracted attention were notable launches (Word Lens), tales of rebirth (Zynga’s mobile success) and revealing interviews with successful developers (A Thinking Ape).

With a Focus on Monetizing Mobile Apps, Tapjoy Leaves Its Scamville Past Behind - January 3rd

After a turbulent 2010, Tapjoy (which had recently changed its name from Offerpal) seemed to be experiencing a rebirth early in the year when this article was published. Unfortunately for the company, 2011 proved to be just as unpredictable, with Apple’s offer wall crackdown forcing the company to explore ways to stay profitable without being dependent on someone else’s platform. In October, Tapjoy launched a workaround — its own web-based gaming platform.

Word Lens More Than Pays for Two Years of Bootstrapping With Its Impressive Launch - January 18th

Jaw-dropping technology also caught the eyes of our readers this year, with our profile on the seemingly-magical augmented reality translation app, Word Lens and the development process behind it satisfying the curiosity of many.

SimplePhyics on iPhone – It’s Not So Simple - April 5th

A review of a popular physics-based puzzle game created by Andrew Garrison attracted attention after the game broke both the top paid and top grossing iPhone charts.

Apple May Have Tweaked App Store Ranking Algorithm, Making Downloads Matter Less  – April 18th

One of the most popular stories we covered this year was the changes Apple quietly rolled out to its App Store ranking algorithm. While the exact formula of how apps are ranked is still unknown, in April Apple added new factors to the formula, mixing factors like downloads, retention and daily usage to help it create more accurate rankings.

Apple Appears to be Cracking Down on Incentivized Installs - April 19th

A day after Apple changed its ranking algorithm, it also began rejecting apps with offer walls, forcing an overnight change in business models for both developers and monetization companies. The change permanently raised user acquisition costs and many developers feared it would make it very difficult for freemium games to monetize.

Pocket Gems’ Tap Pet Hotel Scales to #2 on iOS Free & Grossing, Offer Wall Conspicuously Absent - April 22nd

After Apple’s changes altered the App Store’s landscape there was plenty of interest in how Pocket Gems’ would fare without offer walls, a tool the developer had used to great success earlier in the year. The game wasn’t hurt by the changes and went on to be one of the highest grossing apps of the year.

Paypal-Google Lawsuit Reveals More About How Android Market Deal Went Awry - May 27th

After months of anticipation, Paypal’s Android market deal died. When we reported on the lawsuit between the two companies over the deal, Inside Mobile Apps answered long-standing questions about why the deal fell apart, and why Google went on to develop its own payment system.

With Three Titles in iOS’ Top Grossing 15, Is Zynga Starting to Get Mobile Right? - June 15th

Zynga proved this year that success doesn’t come easy, even to successful companies. The company’s mobile games started off the year poorly, despite an established reputation and a big marketing budget. However, by June the company’s fortunes were beginning to change, and by the end of year, the company was boasting more than 13 million DAU on mobile.

Understanding the iOS and Android Market in China – September 2nd

China is an increasingly important market for mobile app developers — not only is it one of the fastest growing countries in terms of Android activations, but Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has said China is the second biggest iOS market in terms of revenue. Our extensive analysis piece on the Chinese market became a must-read for any company looking to expand East.

Facebook Makes Its Move: Brings Viral Channels to HTML5, iOS AppsOctober 10th

Facebook’s mobile platform wasn’t great for games when it launched, but the company’s move to finally introduce viral channels and work with Apple on installs (rather than focus exclusively on HTML5-based apps) was big news for developers looking to leverage Facebook’s platform in the mobile market.

46 Cents in Revenue Per Daily Active User? Vancouver’s A Thinking Ape Has Seen It Before – November 16th

While the studio may usually maintain a fairly low profile, Vancouver’s A Thinking Ape made headlines this year when an interview revealed exactly how profitable a free-to-play game with solid social features can be.

How Many Downloads Does an App Need to Reach The Top of The Free Charts on iOS? - December 12th

Because the precise nature of the App Store’s ranking algorithm is unknown, developers are always on the lookout for any information to help them understand the mechanics behind it. This simple story based on a Distimo blog post provided what many companies had been looking for — specific download numbers.

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