When federal watchdogs growled recently about privacy concerns for children and their parents over youngsters’ widespread use of nosy mobile apps, were there shamed or red faces all around Hollywood over this issue and the legal concerns it could raise? Should be, because underlying the U.S. regulators’ blast at app-makers was this reality: The entertainment industry has launched aggressively into creating, promoting and, potentially, profiting from kids’ mobile apps. So for entertainment counsel who are keeping up with the blitzkrieg changes in the bleed between their clients’ businesses, technology and societal change, it’s worth a little dig — especially in the midst of this holiday gift-giving season — into the matter of privacy and kids forays into apps, cyberspace and more.
For evidence about the industry’s involvement, look no further than how media serving the business (notably Variety and the outfit known as iKids) both have launched and attracted notable attendance at summits-conferences on mobile apps and entertainment. Evidence: the list of folks who flocked to a NYC session this fall, all industry veeps …
While mobile apps may be wondrous, the Federal Trade Commission’s report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade,” wags a finger at app developers, distributors and interested third parties, pointedly saying grownups fail to adequately protect kids’ privacy when youngsters tap, tap, tap on these 21st century technologies.
The FTC wants parental consent before children can access any app with data collection policies and the agency is waging an information campaign about what it considers the right way for business people to deal with apps.
Michael Glazer, a member of this blog’s editorial board, earlier this semester wrote about the challenges that entertainment companies and counsel confront with fan websites. Keep in mind that the definition of kids, particularly in the FTC’s eyes, is not just about toddlers but also preteens and even teens.
The New York Times reports that the agency’s efforts in the last few months have been met with resistance from Apple, Facebook, Google and Viacom. Technology associations and marketing industry groups say the FTC’s proposed solution could inhibit companies from offering sites, apps and other services for children.
Having an Internet and or mobile component to reach audience has become common. There are big, lucrative markets for mobile apps in the kids’ space because youngsters just love games. So when it comes to creating intellectual property, the mobile app can be much more than just an afterthought.
Take for example, the success of Rovio and its famous “Angry Birds” app. The company focused on creating the app and the results fueled the development of the media property into different uses. This includes Angry Birds merchandise but now also in development, production of an Angry Birds movie. BGR.com reports that the top three leading app development companies with Rovio at No. 1 are Finnish; they employ a marketing strategy that incorporates multiple partnerships to insulate the brand.
The FTC)recently reported that more than 40% of U.S. smartphone owners download apps; smartphone ownership is pervasive among Americans, especially kids. There are hundreds of thousands of apps and that number is growing fast. Traditional gaming, consoles and computers still play a big role in derivative uses of intellectual properties.
But the focus in today’s mobile world has changed the strategy for entertainment companies looking to exploit derivative uses for a media property or to reach their consumers. Who hasn’t now heard tell of, much less embraced the “mobile first” way? How soon, though, before aggressive pursuit of that path, particularly with any cyber or app products aimed at the young, run up against parental animus, regulator scrutiny and a legislative-governmental slam?