San Francisco ousts parking apps for poaching public parking

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A San Francisco City Attorney has issued a stern public notice to Monkey Parking to cease and desist. The app allows users to bid off their public parking spaces when they are ready to leave, which stirs up a bidding war between drivers seeking elusive city parking spots.

The peer-to-peer bidding app is technically illegal according to San Francisco Police Code section 63(s) which states that anyone who enters into a lease, rental, agreement, or contract for public parking can face a penalty of $300 for each violation. This means drivers using the app can face a fine for each violation. (more…)

Judge forces Florida police to release court documents about stingray cell phone trackers

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In a victorious decision for the ACLU, a Florida Judge has forced the state police to release documents describing its use of stingray cell phone trackers.

The emergency motion and subsequent decision came as a result of a court case in Tallahassee, Florida where police testified using stingray technology to track a cell phone inside a suspect’s apartment without obtaining the necessary warrant. The ACLU then tried to obtain court papers but were thwarted by federal marshals seeking to keep public papers accessible to the public, as required by law. (more…)

Minnesota becomes first state to mandate smartphone ‘kill switch’

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Minnesota’s governor Mark Dayton just signed the first law requiring smartphones to be sold with pre-installed antitheft software, now commonly referred to as a kill switch. The new Minnesota law will be effective on July 1, 2015.

The legislation, however, does not clearly define a ‘kill switch’ in that it doesn’t mandate stolen phones must be rendered inoperable once stolen. Moreover, the bill itself also allows for phone manufacturers to sell phones without antitheft software so long as consumers can download it for free: (more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

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