Ten Legal Practice Tips: Developing and Distributing Apps

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  1. Apps likely contain several elements of intellectual property. Protect copyrights, patents and trade secrets as you would in other software projects (employee and contractor agreements, copyright registrations, trademark registrations, patent applications, keep code secure, non-disclosure agreements).
  2. Become familiar with and comply with each app marketplace’s (Apple’s App Store, Google Play, Windows Phone Store, Blackberry World, Facebook Mobile Apps, etc.) terms of service and app developer agreements.
  3. Don’t collect more personal information or device-specific information from users than you need. Develop your apps with consumer privacy in mind. Learn the differences in security features and permission handling between the different app platforms. Be aware that the FTC has treated several app-related pieces of data as personal information, including: persistent identifiers such as an Apple ID or a unique device ID, online contact information, geolocation, authentication credentials such as username and password, other content on a user’s device such as contacts, emails, text messages, photos, videos and audio recordings. Explain to your customers what you are collecting while they are using the app (not just in the privacy policy). Avoid surprising them.
  4. Comply with COPPA if you develop or offer children’s apps. Collecting health information or financial information from users in the U.S. triggers the need to comply with additional privacy laws.
  5. Carefully protect the personal and device-specific information you collect from consumers and dispose of it when no longer needed. Encrypt data that is transmitted. Avoid storing passwords in plain text.
  6. Implement in-app purchases carefully. Make clear that in-app purchases are available in your terms of use and in pop-up notices to users.
  7. If your app involves bitcoin or other virtual currencies, become familiar with and comply with relevant laws, regulations, and platform rules. Research reasons for past denials and adapt your app accordingly to avoid having your app denied by platforms.
  8. If you expect to have users from outside the U.S., make sure your policies and practices are compliant with relevant international laws. Privacy laws differ greatly around the world.
  9. Post your terms of use and privacy policies on the app marketplace page, as a clickthrough before download, in the app, and on your company’s website.
  10. DON’T COPY YOUR TERMS OF USE AND PRIVACY POLICY FROM ANOTHER APP PROVIDER, EVEN A PROMINENT COMPANY IN YOUR INDUSTRY. Make sure your in-house IT department isn’t doing this either.