Google announced this morning a new set of developer policies aimed at providing additional protections for children and families seeking 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 news 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 must 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 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.
Update, 5/29/19, 4:30 PM ET:
Following Google’s announcement, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), which led the FTC complaint, issued a statement in response.
“It’s great that our coalition’s advocacy has awoken to Google to the massive issues with kids apps in the Play Store,” said CCFC Director Josh Golin. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of substance to these changes and it’s concerning that Google remains intent on outsourcing responsibility for compliance to developers rather than taking real steps to enforce its own policies.”
“Furthermore, if Google is serious about cracking down on developers that elide their legal responsibilities by pretending their apps aren’t child-directed, they should start by looking in the mirror. YouTube violates COPPA at a massive scale every day and Google’s laughable defense is that the site is only intended for 13 and up,” he added.
Afterpay unveils BNPL subscription offering for US customers – TechCrunch
“Buy now, pay later” company Afterpay announced Wednesday that it was going after the $1.5 trillion global subscription payments market by offering to its U.S. customers payment installments for subscriptions, like gym memberships, entertainment subscriptions and online services.
The service will launch in both the U.S. and Australia beginning early in 2022 and will be free for customers who pay on time. IPSY, BoxyCharm, Savage X Fenty and Fabletics are among the initial list of merchants that will offer the feature. The company plans to expand the feature in-store and into other regions later, including Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and Europe.
In addition to paying for subscriptions in installments, Afterpay is also enabling its offering to be used on preordered items, where users can pay in four installments over time once the item ships. Another feature coming soon will allow merchants to accept deposits on custom items.
“By offering customers the option to pay for subscriptions with Afterpay, we’re not only giving consumers flexibility to pay for more expensive monthly costs, but we’re also helping our merchant partners capture a wider consumer base through this convenient experience,” said Zahir Khoja, general manager of North America for Afterpay, in a written statement.
Klarna, Afterpay’s competitor in the BNPL space, also announced news this week for its U.S. customers that it was offering its “Pay Now” option.
Meanwhile, in August, Square announced that it was buying Afterpay in an all-stock deal valued at $29 billion. Afterpay has also been on a roll with feature debuts recently, launching both Afterpay Ads, a suite of advertising products for brands to engage with shoppers within the ecosystem, and merchant analytics tool Afterpay IQ, in August.
Afterpay works with 100,000 retailers and has approximately 10.5 million active customers in North America as of June 30, up from 5.6 million the year prior. North America is the company’s “largest region in terms of underlying sales,” which grew 145% year over year, or from $4 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $9.8 billion in fiscal year 2021, according to the company.
Fairphone hits software support longevity akin to Apple’s iPhone – TechCrunch
Fairphone, the Dutch social enterprise dedicated to making consumer electronics (more) sustainable and ethical, including by supporting repairability so that users can hold onto their hardware for longer, has announced public testing of Android 10 for the six-year-old Fairphone 2.
Owners of the modular handset that was first released back in 2015, running Android 5, should expect to be able to upgrade to Android 10 (released date: 2019) in early 2022, Fairphone said today, announcing the beta rollout of the upgrade.
Fairphone stopped producing (but not supporting) the Fairphone 2 back in 2018 — going on to release the Fairphone 3 (in 2019), the Fairphone 3+ (in 2020, also available as a modular upgrade to the 3) and, earlier this fall, the Fairphone 4, its first 5G handset — which it said would be supported until at least 2025.
Given the Fairphone 2’s impending update to Android 10 next year — which will mean it will have been supported for a total of seven years — 2025 looks like a conservative estimate of how long Fairphone 4 owners should expect to receive software support.
Fairphone says it collaborated with its community of users for the Android 10 upgrade project — and with a software developer in India, Bharath Ravi Prakash, which it says worked as a volunteer open source dev — and by doing that says it was able to streamline the process and shrink the time required to carry out the upgrade.
So while the prior Fairphone 2 OS update (to Android 9) took 18 months, this time the process has been condensed to 10 months.
Google, meanwhile, has gone on to release Android 11 (2020) and Android 12 (last month) — for a sense of how far behind the Fairphone 2 upgrades are trailing the latest OS release.
“The company learned a lot from the Android 9 upgrade and although still complex, Android 10 was more predictable than Android 9,” Fairphone notes in a press release, which also quotes its head of software longevity & IT, Agnes Crepet, who writes: “Our unique approach to software has allowed us to help our users keep their devices for as long as possible. We’re pleased to be able to provide our Fairphone 2 community with yet another software upgrade, reaching our goal to provide at least five years of support from launch for our phones and with the Android 10 upgrade, we’re going beyond that to seven years of support. We are constantly raising the bar for ourselves and the industry, showing that doing things more sustainably in software is possible.”
Seven years’ support puts Fairphone into Apple iPhone software support timespans. But of course the average Android-based handset can expect fair fewer years of software love — typically Android smartphones only get around three years’ support. So it’s a major achievement.
And while Fairphone may only now be catching up to Apple on the software longevity front it is already years ahead of Cupertino in another respect: Hardware sustainability through repairability via modular construction and offering direct-to-consumer spare parts.
Earlier this month Apple announced that, starting next year, it would kick off a “Self Service Repair” program — shipping spare parts and repair tools to iPhone and Mac users to let them perform basic repairs at home.
It’s by no means full modularity from the company that has — historically — loved a hermetically sealed, stupidly thin, often literally glued shut box, but it is a small step in a more sustainable direction. And one that Fairphone has long pioneered.
Spotify tests a TikTok-like vertical video feed in its app – TechCrunch
TikTok has seen its short-form video feed copied by a host of competitors, from Instagram to Snap to YouTube and even Netflix. Now it looks like you can add Spotify to that list. The company has confirmed it’s currently testing a new feature in its app, Discover, which presents a vertical feed of music videos that users can scroll through and optionally like or skip. For those who have access to the feature, it appears as a fourth tab in the navigation bar at the bottom of the Spotify app, in between Home and Search.
The new addition was first spotted by Chris Messina, who tweeted out a video of the Discover feature in action. He described it as a “pared-down version” of a TikTok-style feed of music videos.
Messina told us he found the feature in Spotify’s TestFlight build (a beta version for iOS), where a new icon in the navigation toolbar brings you immediately to the video feed when tapped. You can then swipe up and down to move through the feed, much like you would on TikTok. In addition to tapping the heart to like songs, you also can tap the three-dot menu to bring up the standard song information sheet, he notes.
Messina also speculated the feature may be taking advantage of Spotify’s existing Canvas format.
Introduced broadly in 2019, Canvas allows artists to create videos that accompany their music on the Spotify app. The feature had mixed reviews from users, as some reported they preferred to see just the static album art when listening to music and found the video and its looping imagery distracting. But others said they liked it. Canvas, however, appears to drive the engagement metrics that Spotify wants — the company reports that users are more likely to keep streaming, share tracks or save tracks when they see a Canvas.
From the video Messina shared and others we viewed, we can confirm that the videos playing in the vertical feed are the artists’ existing Canvas videos. But Spotify would not confirm this to us directly.
TechCrunch asked Spotify for further information on the feature, including whether it had plans to roll this out further, whether it was available on both iOS and Android, which markets had access to the feature and more. The company declined to share any details about the feature but did confirm, via a statement, it was exploring the idea of a vertical video feed.
“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Some of those tests end up paving the way for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We don’t have any further news to share at this time,” they added.
In other words, the test is still very early and may not make its way to the public. But if it did, it wouldn’t be a surprising move on Spotify’s part. The company has before looked to popular social media formats to engage its users. In the past, Spotify tested a Stories feature that allowed influencers to post Stories to introduce their own, curated playlists. But that option never became available to all Spotify users.
While the TikTok format has been adopted by top social platforms, including Instagram (Reels), Snapchat (Spotlight), YouTube (Shorts) and Pinterest (Idea Pins), it’s also proving to be an ideal format for content discovery. Netflix, for instance, recently adopted the short-form vertical video feed in its own app with the launch of its “Fast Laughs” feature, which offers clips from its content library and tools to save the programs to a watch list or just start streaming them. Similarly, Spotify’s video-based Discover feature could help introduce users to new music and offer a way to signal their interests to Spotify in a familiar format.
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