COPPAesthetics: Form Follows Function Yet Again
Earlier in December 2012, The Federal Trade Commission adopted final amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). As you might imagine, any regulation that mixes child safety (nothing is more important right?), the multi-billion dollar Internet economy (nothing is more important than jobs right?), and increased regulation (you fill-in the blank here) is bound to be controversial. The new rule(s) take effect on July 1, 2013 and cover a lot of ground. The COPPA amendments expand:
On a separate track, I have long been calling out how the design intent (functional requirements) behind the various analytics technologies out there lead to profound (material) differences in architecture and feature sets (form). For a more technical treatment of this topic, see Application Analytics: what every developer should know.
Debuggers, profilers, web/mobile analytics, and last (but not least ;) application analytics are distinct from one another – and this latest update to COPPA serves as one more stark reminder as to why these distinctions really matter.
Information that is exempt from COPPA obligations include data that is used exclusively to “Support internal operations” including “maintaining or analyzing the functioning of app or service.” So, right away we can assume that debuggers and system monitoring software are still in the clear – but these tools do nothing to improve usability, measure adoption, identify user preferences, and – in most cases – cannot even reach out onto consumer devices like mobile phones and tablets.
What’s an app/service provider (what COPPA calls an “operator”) to do?
Today, app/service providers (let’s call them “Owners” for now) have had two options for analytics inside their apps and online services;
Functionally, these two technologies are quite different and are complimentary (see the article listed above) – and another stark difference between these two categories is the preferred business model of their respective vendors.
...who moved my analytics?
All of this has potentially serious implications for both app/online service providers AND advertising networks.
“Our Customers may not use the Flurry Services in connection with any application labeled or described as a "Kids" or "Children" application and may not use the Flurry Services a) in connection with any application, advertisement or service directed towards children or b) to collect any personal information from children.”
Application analytics service providers find themselves in a very different position. I need to stress that “application analytics” and “mobile analytics” are not equivalent – the latter will not promote an app or rank an app against competitors.
Yet, to the extent that measuring user experience, preferences and behavior leads to improved adoption and sales and to the extent that reducing mean-time-to-repair improves operations and increases satisfaction and application value – application analytics will, by design, continue to improve application quality and value in a safe and secure manner - even under increasing regulatory oversight and scrutiny.