Tesla’s in-car touchscreens are getting YouTube support

Tesla has consistently been adding software to its in-car touchscreen infotainment displays – including sometimes things that probably leave a lot of people scratching their heads. During a special Q&A today at annual gaming event E3 in LA, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Tesla’s in-car display will support YouTube someday soon.

This isn’t the first time that the Tesla CEO has suggested YouTube might one day have a home in the company’s cars: In response to a fan’s question on Twitter last August he noted that ‘version 10’ of the company’s in-car software would provide support for third-party video streaming. The company debuted its ‘Software Version 9.0’ last year.

Musk specifically said YouTube would be coming to cars during the E3 event today, at which he revealed that Bethesda’s Fallout 3 would be coming to the infotainment displays, and unveiled a demo video of Android game Beach Buggy Racer running on a display in a Tesla Model 3.

On a recent podcast, the Tesla CEO also said that the company would consider opening the platform more broadly to third-party developers for both apps and games. The company has done a lot on its own to add software ‘Easter Eggs’ to the dash display, but turning it into a true platform is a much more ambitious vision.

On its face, adding attention-heavy apps like streaming video services to a car definitely seems counterintuitive, but to be fair to Tesla, a large number of drivers today use their phones for in-car navigation and those can also all technically display YouTube at any time. It does seem like a case of Musk’s mind racing ahead to a day when his cars are fully autonomous, something he recently reiterated he expects to happen within the next couple of years.

Mobile games now account for 33% of installs, 10% of time, and 74% of consumer spend

Mobile gaming continues to hold its own, accounting for 10% of the time users spend in apps — a percentage that has remained steady over the years, even though our time in apps overall has grown by 50% over the past two years. In addition, games are continuing to grow their share of consumer spend, notes App Annie in a new research report out this week, timed with E3.

Thanks to growth in hyper-casual and cross-platform gaming in particular, mobile games are on track to reach 60% market share in consumer spend in 2019.

The new report looks at how much time users spend gaming versus using other apps, monetization, and regional highlights within the gaming market, among other things.

Despite accounting for a sizable portion of users’ time, games don’t lead the other categories, App Annie says.

Instead, social and communications apps account for half (50%) of the time users spent globally in apps in 2018, followed by video players and editors at 15%, then games at 10%.

In the U.S., users generally have 8 games installed per device and globally, we play an average of 2 to 5 games per month.

The number of total hours spent games continues to grow roughly 10% year-over-year, as well, thanks to existing gamers increasing their time in games and from a broadening user base including a large number of mobile app newcomers from emerging markets.

This has also contributed to a widening age range for gamers.

Today, the majority of time spent in gaming is by those aged 25 and up. In many cases, these players may not even classify themselves as “gamers,” App Annie noted.

While games may not lead the categories in terms of time spent, they do account for a large number of mobile downloads and the majority of consumer spending on mobile.

One-third of all worldwide downloads are games across iOS, Google Play, and third-party app stores.

Last year, 1.6+ million games launched on Google Play and 1.1+ million arrived on iOS.

On Android, 74 cents of every dollar is spent on games with 95% of those purchases coming as in-app purchases not paid downloads. App Annie didn’t have figures for iOS.

Google Play is known for having more downloads than iOS, but continues to trail on consumer spend. In 2018, Google Play grabbed a 72% share of worldwide downloads, compared with 28% on iOS. Meanwhile, Google Play only saw 36% of consumer spend versus 64% on iOS.

One particular type of gaming jumped out in the new report: racing games.

Consumer spend in this subcategory of gaming grew 7.9 times as fast as the overall mobile gaming market. Adventure games did well, too, growing roughly 5 times the rate of games in general. Music games and board games were also popular.

Of course, gaming expands beyond mobile. But it’s surprising to see how large a share of the broader market can be attributed to mobile gaming.

According to App Annie, mobile gaming is larger than all other channels including home game consoles, handheld consoles, and computers (Mac and PC). It’s also 20% larger than all these other categories combined — a shift from only a few years ago, attributed to the growth in the mobile consumer base, which allows mobile gaming to reach more people.

Cross-platform gaming is a key gaming trend today, thanks to titles like PUBG and Fortnite in particular, which were among the most downloaded games across several markets last year.

Meanwhile, hyper-casual games are appealing to those who don’t think of themselves as gamers, which has helped to broaden the market further.

App Annie is predicting the next big surge will come from AR gaming, with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite expected to bring Pokémon Go-like frenzy back to AR, bringing the new title $100 million in its first 30 days. The game is currently in beta testing in select markets, with plans for a 2019 release.

In terms of regions, China’s impact on gaming tends to be outsized, but its growth last year was limited due to the game license regulations. This forced publishers to look outside the country for growth — particularly in markets like North America and Japan, App Annie said.

Meanwhile, India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia lead the emerging markets with regard to game
downloads, but established markets of the U.S. and China remain strong players in terms of sheer numbers.

With the continued steady growth in consumer spend and the stable time spent in games, App Annie states the monetization potential for games is growing. In 2018, there were 1900 games that made more than $5 million, up from 1200 in 2106. In addition, consumer spend in many key markets is still growing too — like the 105% growth in two years in China, for example, and the 45% growth in the U.S.

The full report delves into other regions as well as game publishers’ user acquisition strategies. It’s available download here.

Google Assistant comes to Waze navigation app

Ever since Google acquired Waze back in 2013, features from each have been slowly making their way back and forth between it and Google Maps – and today Waze gets a big upgrade with Google Assistant integration, which means you can use the smart voice companion within the app.

Google Assistant in Waze will provide access to your usual Assistant features, like playback of music and podcasts, but it’ll also offer access to many Waze-specific abilities, including letting you asking it to report traffic conditions, or specifying that you want to avoid tolls when routing to your destination.

Google has done a good job of rolling out support for Assistant in its own Android Auto in-car software, and even brought it to Google Maps on Apple’s competing CarPlay system earlier this year. The benefits of having Assistant work natively within Waze are many, but the number one might be its potential to reduce distractions while on the road.

Waze remains a top choice among drivers, and anecdotally most Uber and Lyft drivers I encounter still swear by its supremacy over the competition, including Google’s other own-branded Maps solution.

Google Assistant will be available via a roll-out starting today in the U.S., in English only to start and on Android smartphones. Expect that availability to expand over time.

Weighing Peloton’s opportunity and risks ahead of IPO

Exercise tech company Peloton filed confidentially for IPO this week, and already the big question is whether their last private valuation at $4 billion might be too rich for the appetites of public market investors. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons leading up to the as-yet revealed market debut date.

Risk factors

The biggest thing to pay attention to when it comes time for Peloton to actually pull back the curtains and provide some more detailed info about its customers in its S-1. To date, all we really know is that Peloton has “more than 1 million users,” and that’s including both users of its hardware and subscribers to its software.

The mix is important – how many of these are actually generating recurring revenue (vs. one-time hardware sales) will be a key gauge. MRR is probably going to be more important to prospective investors when compared with single-purchases of Peloton’s hardware, even with its premium pricing of around $2,000 for the bike and about $4,000 for the treadmill. Peloton CEO John Foley even said last year that bike sales went up when the startup increased prices.

Hardware numbers are not entirely distinct from subscriber revenue, however: Per month pricing is actually higher with Peloton’s hardware than without, at $39 per month with either the treadmill or the bike, and $19.49 per month for just the digital subscription for iOS, Android and web on its own.

That makes sense when you consider that its classes are mostly tailored to this, and that it can create new content from its live classes which occur in person in New York, and then are recast on-demand to its users (which is a low-cost production and distribution model for content that always feels fresh to users).

Aptoide, a Play Store rival, cries antitrust foul over Google hiding its app

As US regulators gear up to launch another antitrust probe of Google’s business, an alternative Android app store is dialling up its long time complaint of anti-competitive behavior against the search and smartphone OS giant.

Portugal-based Aptoide is launching a campaign website to press its case and call for Google to “Play Fair” — accusing Mountain View of squeezing consumer choice by “preventing users from freely choosing their preferred app store”.

Aptoide filed its first EU antitrust complaint against Google all the way back in 2014, joining a bunch of other complainants crying foul over how Google was operating Android.

And while the European Commission did eventually step in, slapping Google with a $5BN penalty for antitrust abuses last summer after a multi-year investigation, rivals continue to complain the Android maker still isn’t playing fair.

In the case of Aptoide, the alternative Android app store says Google has damaged its ability to compete by unjustifiably flagging its app as insecure.

“Since Summer 2018, Google Play Protect flags Aptoide as a harmful app, hiding it in users’ Android devices and requesting them to uninstall it. This results in a potential decrease of unique Aptoide users of 20%. Google Play Protect is Google’s built-in malware protection for Android, but we believe the way it works damages users’ rights,” it writes on the site, where it highlights what it claims are Google’s anti-competitive behaviors, and asks users to report experiences of the app being flagged.

Aptoide says Google has engaged in multiple behaviors that make it harder for it to gain or keep users — thereby undermining its ability to compete with Google’s own Play Store.

“In 2018, we had 222 million yearly active users. Last month (May’19), we had 56 million unique MAU,” co-founder and CEO Paulo Trezentos tells TechCrunch. “We estimate that the Google Play removal and flagging had cause the loss of 15% to 20% of our user base since June’18.”

(The estimate of how many users Aptoide has lost was performed using Google SafetyNet API which he says allows it to query the classification of an app.)

“Fortunately we have been able to compensate that with new users and new partnerships but it is a barrier to a faster growth,” he adds.

“The googleplayfair.com site hopes to bring visibility to this situation and help other start ups that may be under the same circumstances.”

Among the anti-competitive behaviors Aptoide accuses Google of engaging in are flagging and suspending its app from users’ phones — without their permission and “without a valid reason”.

“It hides Aptoide. User cannot see Aptoide icon and cannot launch. Even if they go to ‘settings’ and say they trust Aptoide, Aptoide installations are blocked,” he says. “If it looks violent, it’s because it’s a really aggressive move and impactful.”

Here’s the notification Aptoide users are shown when trying to override Google’s suspension of Aptoide at the package manager level:

Even if an Aptoide user overrides the warning — by clicking ‘keep app (unsafe)’ — Trezentos says the app still won’t work because Google blocks Aptoide from installing apps.

“The user has to go to Play Protect settings (discover it it’s not easy) and turn off Play protect for all apps.”

He argues there is no justification for Aptoide’s alternative app store being treated in this way.

“Aptoide is considered safe both by security researchers [citing a paper by Japanese security researchers] and by Virus Total (a company owned by Google),” says Trezentos, adding: “Google is removing Aptoide from users phone only due to anticompetitive practices. Doesn’t want anyone else as distribution channel in Android.”

On the website Aptoide has launched to raise awareness and inform users and other startups about how Google treats its app, it makes the claim that its store is “proven… 100% secure” — writing:

We would like to be treated in a fair way: Play Protect should not flag Aptoide as a harmful app and should not ask users to uninstall it since it’s proven that it’s 100% secure. Restricting options for users goes against the nature of the Android open source project [ref10]. Moreover, Google’s ongoing abusive behaviour due to it’s dominant position results in the lack of freedom of choice for users and developers.We would like to keep allowing users and developers to discover and distribute apps in the store of their choice. A healthy competitive market and a variety of options are what we all need to keep providing the best products.

Trezentos stands by the “100% secure” claim when we query it.

“We think that we have a safer approach. We call it  ‘security by design’: We don’t consider all apps secure in the same way. Each app has a badge depending on the reputation of the developer: Trusted, Unknown, Warning, Critical,” he says.

“We are almost 100% sure that apps with a trusted badge are safe. But new apps from new developers, [carry] more risk in spite of all the technology we have developed to detect it. They keep the badge ‘unknown‘ until the community vote it as trusted. This can take some weeks, it can take some months.”

“Of course, if our anti-malware systems detect problems, we classify it as ‘critical’ and the users don’t see it at all,” he adds.

Almost 100% secure then. But if Google’s counter claim to justify choking off access to Aptoide is that the app “can download potentially harmful apps” the same can very well be said of its Play Store. And Google certainly isn’t encouraging Android users to pause that.

On the competition front, Aptoide presents a clear challenge to Google’s Android revenues because it offers developers a more attractive revenue split — taking just 19%, rather than the 30% cut Google takes off of Play Store wares. (Aptoide couches the latter as “Google’s abusive conditions”.)

So if Android users can be persuaded to switch from Play to Aptoide, developers stand to gain — and arguably users too, as app costs would be lower.

While, on the flip side, Google faces its 30% cut being circumvented. Or else it could be forced to reduce how much it takes from developers to give them a greater incentive to stock its shelves with great apps.

As with any app store business, Aptoide’s store of course requires scale to function. And it’s exactly that scale which Google’s behavior has negatively impacted since it began flagging the app as insecure a year ago, in June 2018, squeezing the rival’s user-base by up to a fifth, as Aptoide tells it.

Trezentos says Google’s flagging of its app store affects all markets and “continues to this day” — despite a legal ruling in its favor last fall, when a court in Portugal ordered Google to stop removing Aptoide without users’ permission.

“Google is ignoring the injunction result and is disregarding the national court. No company, independently of the size, should be above court decisions. But it seems that is the case with Google,” he says.

“Our legal team believe that the decision applies to 82 countries but we are pursuing first the total compliance with the decision in Portugal. From there, we will seek the extension to other jurisdictions.”

“We tried to contact Google several times, via Google Play Protect feedback form and directly through LinkedIn, and we’ve not had any feedback from Google. No reasons were presented. No explanation, although we are talking about hiding Aptoide in millions of users’ phones,” he adds.

“Our point in court it’s simple: Google is using the control at operating system level to block competitors at the services level (app store, in this case). As Google has a dominant position, that’s not legal. Court [in Portugal] confirmed and order Google to stop. Google didn’t obey.”

Aptoide has not filed an antitrust complaint against Google in the US — focusing its legal efforts on that front on local submissions to the European Commission.

But Trezentos says it’s “willing to cooperate with US authorities and provide factual data that shows that Google has acted with anti-competitive behaviour” (although he says no one has come knocking to request such collaboration yet.)

In Europe, the Commission’s 2018 antitrust decision was focused on Android licensing terms — which led to Google tweaking the terms it offers Android OEMs selling in Europe last fall.

Despite some changes rivals continue to complain that its changes do not go far enough to create a level playing field for competition.

There has also not been any relief for Aptoide from the record breaking antitrust enforcement. On the contrary Google appears to have dug in against this competitive threat.

“The remedies are positive but the scope is very limited to OEM partnerships,” says Trezentos of the EC’s 2018 Android antitrust decision. “We proposed additionally that Google would be obliged to give the same access privileges over the operating system to credible competitors.”

We’ve reached out to the Commission for comment on Aptoide’s complaint.

While it’s at least technically possible for an OEM to offer an Android device in Europe which includes key Google services (like search and maps) but preloads an alternative app store, rather than Google Play, it would be a brave device maker indeed to go against the consumer grain and not give smartphone buyers the mainstream store they expect.

So, as yet, there’s little high level regulatory relief to help Aptoide. And it may take a higher court than a Portuguese national court to force Google to listen.

But with US authorities fast dialling up their scrutiny of Mountain View, Aptoide may find a new audience for its complaint.

“The increased awareness to Google practices is reaching the regulators,” Trezentos agrees, adding: “Those practices harm competition and in the end are bad for developers and mobile users.”

We reached out to Google with questions about its treatment of Aptoide’s rival app store — but at the time of writing the company had not responded with any comment. 

There have also been some recent rumors that Aptoide is in talks to supply its alternative app store for Huawei devices — in light of the US/China trade uncertainties, and the executive order barring US companies from doing business with the Chinese tech giant, which have led to reports that Google intends to withdraw key Android services like Play from the company.

But Trezentos pours cold water on these rumors, suggesting there has been no change of cadence in its discussions with Huawei.

“We work with three of top six mobile OEMs in the world. Huawei is not one of them yet,” he tells us. “Our Shengzhen office had been in conversations for some months and they are testing our APIs. This process has not been accelerated or delayed by the recent news.”

US/China trade uncertainty adds to global smartphone growth woes

Analyst Canalys has updated its forecast of global smartphone shipments — saying it expects just 1.35 billion units to ship in 2019, a year-on-year decline of 3.1%.

This follows ongoing uncertainty around US-China trade talks and the presidential order signed by Trump last month barring US companies from using kit by Chinese device makers, including Huawei, on national security grounds — which led to reports that Google would withdraw supply of key Android services to Huawei.

“Due to the many uncertainties surrounding the US/China trade talks, the US Executive Order signed on 15 May and subsequent developments, Canalys has lowered its forecasts to reflect an uncertain future,” the analyst writes.

It says its forecast is based on the assumption that restrictions will be stringently applied to Huawei once a 90-day reprieve which was subsequently granted expires — the temporary licence run from May 20, 2019, through August 19, 2019 — making it difficult for the world’s second largest smartphone maker by sales to roll out new devices in the short term, especially outside China, even as it takes steps to mitigate the effect of component and service supply issues.

“Its overseas potential will be hampered for some time,” the analyst suggests. “The US and China may eventually reach a trade deal to alleviate the pressure on Huawei, but if and when this will happen is far from clear.”

“It is important to note that market uncertainty is clearly prompting vendors to accelerate certain strategies to minimize the short- and long-term impact in a challenging business environment, for example, shifting manufacturing to different countries to hedge against the risk of tariffs. But with recent US announcements on tariffs on goods from more countries, the industry will be dealing with turmoil for some time,” added Nicole Peng, Canalys VP, mobility, in a statement.

It expects other smartphone makers to seek to capitalize on short term opportunities created by the uncertainty hitting the Chinese tech giant, and predicts that South Korea’s Samsung will benefit the most — “thanks to its aggressive device strategy and its ability to quickly ramp up production”.

By 2020, it expects the market to have settled a little — with active contingency plans to be in place in major mobile supply chains and channels to “mitigate Huawei’s decline”, as well as gear up for 5G device rollouts.

Canalys takes the view that 5G and other hardware innovations will be positive drivers for consumer demand — expecting smartphone shipments to return to soft growth globally in 2020, rising 3.4% to 1.39BN, albeit with some subtle regional variations that it says will allow some to recover faster than others.

Foxconn halts production lines for Huawei phones, according to reports

Huawei, the Chinese technology giant whose devices are at the center of a far-reaching trade dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments, is reducing orders for new phones, according to a report in The South China Morning Post.

According to unnamed sources, the Taiwanese technology manufacturer Foxconn has halted production lines for several Huawei phones after the Shenzhen-based company reduced orders. Foxconn also makes devices for most of the major smart phone vendors including Apple and Xiaomi (in addition to Huawei).

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to protect U.S. networks from foreign technologies, Huawei and several of its affiliates were barred from acquiring technologies from U.S. companies.

The blacklist has impacted multiple lines of Huawei’s business including it handset manufacturing capabilities given the company’s reliance on Google’s Android operating system for its smartphones.

In May, Google reportedly suspended business with Huawei, according to a Reuters report. Last year, Huawei shipped over 200 million handsets and the company had a stated goal to become the world’s largest vendor of smartphones by 2020.

These reports from The South China Morning Post are the clearest indication that the ramifications of the U.S. blacklisting are beginning to be felt across Huawei’s phone business outside of China.

Huawei was already under fire for security concerns, and will be forced to contend with more if it can no longer provide Android updates to global customers.

Contingency planning is already underway at Huawei. The company has built its own Android -based operating system, and can use the stripped down, open source version of Android that ships without Google Mobile Services. For now, its customers also still have access to Google’s app store. But if the company is forced to make developers sell their apps on a siloed Huawei-only store, it could face problems from users outside of China.

Huawei and the Chinese government are also retaliating against the U.S. efforts. The company has filed a legal motion to challenge the U.S. ban on its equipment, calling it “unconstitutional.”  And Huawei has sent home its American employees deployed at R&D functions at its Shenzhen headquarters.

It has also asked its Chinese employees to limit conversations with overseas visitors, and cease any technical meetings with their U.S. contacts.

Still, any reduction in orders would seem to indicate that the U.S. efforts to stymie Huawei’s expansion (at least in its smartphone business) are having an impact.

A spokesperson for Huawei U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.

Google announces new privacy requirements for Chrome extensions

Google today announced two major changes to how it expects Chrome extension developers to protect their users’ privacy. Starting this summer, extension developers are required to only request access to the data they need to implement their features — and nothing more. In addition, the company is expanding the number of extension developers who will have to post privacy policies.

In addition, the company is also announcing changes to how third-party developers can use the Google Drive API to provide their users access to files there.

Google announces new privacy requirements for Chrome extensions

All of this is part of Google’s Project Strobe, an effort the company launched last year to reconsider how third-party developers can access data in your Google account and on your Android devices. It was Project Strobe, for example, that detected the issues with Google+’s APIs that hastened the shutdown of the company’s failed social network. It also extends some of the work on Chrome extensions the company announced last October.

“Third-party apps and websites create services that millions of people use to get things done and customize their online experience,” Google Fellow and VP of Engineering Ben Smith writes in today’s announcement. “To make this ecosystem successful, people need to be confident their data is secure, and developers need clear rules of the road.”

With today’s announcements, Google aims to provide these rules. For extension developers, that means that if they need multiple permissions to implement a feature, they have to access the least amount of data possible, for example. Previously, that’s something the company recommended. Now, it’s required.

Previously, only developers who write extensions that handle personal or sensitive data had to post privacy policies. Going forward, this requirement will also include extensions that handle any user-provided content and personal communications. “Of course, extensions must continue to be transparent in how they handle user data, disclosing the collection, use and sharing of that data,” Smith adds.

As for the Drive API, Google is essentially locking down the service a bit more and limiting third-party access to specific files. Apps that need broader access, including backup services, will have to be verified by Google. The Drive API changes won’t go into effect until next year, though.

Science publisher IEEE bans Huawei but says trade rules will have ‘minimal impact’ on members

The IEEE’s ban on Huawei following new trade restrictions in the United States has sent shock waves through the global academic circles. The organization responded saying the impact of the trade policy will have limited effects on its members, but it’s hard at this point to appease those who have long hailed it as an open platform for scientists and professors worldwide to collaborate.

Earlier this week, the New York-headquartered Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers blocked Huawei employees from being reviewers or editors for its peer-review process, according to screenshots of an email sent to its editors that first circulated in the Chinese media.

The IEEE later confirmed the ban in a statement issued on Wednesday, saying it “complies with U.S. government regulations which restrict the ability of the listed Huawei companies and their employees to participate in certain activities that are not generally open to the public. This includes certain aspects of the publication peer review and editorial process.”

In mid-May, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security added Huawei and its affiliates to its “Entity List,” effectively barring U.S. firms from selling technology to Huawei without government approval.

It’s unclear what makes peer review at the IEEE a technology export, but the science association wrote in its email to editors that violation “may have severe legal implications.”

Whilst it’s registered in New York, the IEEE bills itself as a “non-political” and “global” community aiming to “foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.”

Despite its removal of Huawei scientists from paper vetting, the IEEE assured that its compliance with U.S. trade restrictions should have “minimal impact” on its members around the world. It further added that Huawei and its employees can continue to participate in other activities as a member, including accessing the IEEE digital library; submitting technical papers for publication; presenting at IEEE-sponsored conferences; and accepting IEEE awards.

As members of its standard-setting body, Huawei employees can also continue to exercise their voting rights, attend standards development meetings, submit proposals and comment in public discussions on new standards.

A number of Chinese professors have reprimanded the IEEE’s decision, flagging the danger of letting politics meddle with academic collaboration. Zhang Haixia, a professor at the School of Electronic and Computer Engineering of China’s prestigious Peking University, said in a statement that she’s quitting the IEEE boards in protest.

This is Haixia Zhang from Peking University, as an old friend and senior IEEE member, I am really shocked to hear that IEEE is involved in “US-Huawei Ban” for replacing all reviewers from Huawei, which is far beyond the basic line of Science and Technology which I was trainedand am following in my professional career till now.

…today, this message from IEEE for “replacing all reviewers from Huawei in IEEE journals” is challenging my professional integrity. I have to say that, As a professor, I AM NOT accept this. Therefore, I decided to quit from IEEE NANO and IEEE JMEMS editorial board untill one day it come back to our common professional integrity.

The IEEE freeze on Huawei adds to a growing list of international companies and organizations that are severing ties or clashing with the Chinese smartphone and telecom giant in response to the trade blacklist. That includes Google, which has blocked select Android services from Huawei; FedEx, which allegedly “diverted” a number of Huawei packages; ARM, which reportedly told employees to suspend business with Huawei; as well as Intel and Qualcomm, which also reportedly cut ties with Huawei. 

Following FTC complaint, Google rolls out new policies around kids’ apps on Google Play

Google announced this morning a new set of developer policies aimed at providing additional protections for children and families seeking out kid-friendly apps on Google Play. The new policies require that developers ensure their apps are meeting all the necessary policy and regulatory requirements for apps that target children in terms of their content, ads, and how they handle personally identifiable information.

For starters, developers are being asked to consider whether children are a part of their target audience — and, if they’re not, developers must ensure their app doesn’t unintentionally appeal to them. Google says it will now also double-check an app’s marketing to confirm this is the case and ask for changes, as needed.

Apps that do target children have to meet the policy requirements concerning content and handling of personally identifiable information. This shouldn’t be new to developers playing by the rules, as Google has had policies around “kid-safe” apps for years as part of its “Designed for Families” program, and countries have their own regulations to follow when it comes to collecting children’s data.

In addition, developers whose apps are targeting children must only serve ads from an ads network that has certified compliance with Google’s families policies.

 

To enforce these policies at scale, Google is now requiring all developers to complete the new target audience and content section of the Google Play Console. Here, they will have to specify more details about their app. If they say that children are targeted, they’ll be directed to the appropriate policies.

Google will use this information, alongside its review of the app’s marketing materials, in order to categorize apps and apply policies across three target groups: children, children and older users, and older users. (And because the definition of “children” may vary by country, developers will need to determine what age-based restrictions apply in the countries where their app is listed.)

Developers have to comply with the process of filling out the information on Google Play and come into compliance with the updated policies by September 1, 2019.

The company says it’s committed to providing “a safe, positive environment” for kids and families, which is why it’s announcing these changes.

However, the changes are more likely inspired by an FTC complaint filed in December, in which a coalition of 22 consumer and public health advocacy groups, led by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), asked for an investigation of kids’ apps on Google Play.

The organizations claimed that Google was not verifying apps and games featured in the Family section of Google Play for compliance with U.S. children’s privacy law COPPA.

They also said many so-called “kids” apps exhibited bad behaviors — like showing ads that are difficult to exit or showing those that require viewing in order to continue the current game. Some apps pressured kids into making in-app purchases, and others were found serving ads for alcohol and gambling. And others, still, were found to model harmful behavior or contain graphic, sexualized images, the groups warned regulators.

The time when violations like these can slip through the cracks is long past, thanks to increased regulatory oversight across the online industry by way of laws like the EU’s GDPR, which focuses on data protection and privacy. The FTC is also more keen to act, as needed — it even recently doled out a record fine for TikTok for violating COPPA. 

The target audience and content section are live today in the Google Play Console, along with documentation on the new policies, a developer guide, and online training. In addition, Google says it has also increased its staffing and improved its communications for the Google Play app review and appeals processes in order to help developers get timely decisions and understand any changes they’re directed to make.