Legal Considerations For Building a Mobile App

BY: ON WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2013

Revenue from the four major application stores is in the billions of dollars, growing at a year-on-year rate akin to the dotcom boom of the 1990s . App development has, in many ways, a simple truth at its heart: you can develop an app as a small business just as well as a large corporation. Even an individual with an idea and some know-how can launch an app. The trick is making sure you’re covered for all eventualities.

When you build a mobile app, there are three main areas to consider when it comes to the law: software, goods, and information.

Software

Building an app for Apple or Android means using their software--unless you plan to create your own completely from scratch, which is an unnecessary move. Systems are in place to encourage app creation. To become a registered developer, you simply obtain a license to their software toolkit, allowing you to use their platforms. Here’s tip number one: read the terms and conditions and the license agreement. Don’t automatically agree to these terms. It’s important to know what you’re signing, what you’re permitted to do, and what you’re committed to do. It’s worth watching out for conditions which prevent you from licensing your app on a different platform, or which give the platform permission to drop your app should a competitor arise. You should also make sure never to give the platform owner permission to modify your app without your consent.

In development, when you create your app’s icon, make sure you avoid trademark infringement on any other apps’ icons, and consider seeing an intellectual property lawyer about your own.

Goods

Asking people to download your app –especially if you charge money – creates a transaction you must deliver on. Essentially, this means that your app has to do what it says on the tin. Double and triple check your descriptions and any advertising – could it be misleading? Does it give a reasonable explanation of the app’s limitations and uses? This is especially important if you have any upgrade or in-game content which charges more money. Is every transaction clear and is enough caution taken that no one will accidentally purchase items? Mobile apps fall into the hands of children more often than you might think – and charges racked up simply by using an app’s upfront features could be problematic. Be clear and have some checks and balances in all purchases.

Information

This is perhaps the trickiest area of all, but one that consumers are most likely to take to heart. Does your app collect data – and does it need to?

Data in this case can be a few things, including:
  • Names, contact details and other identifiers of the user
  • Names, contact details and other identifiers of user’s contacts
  • User handset identifiers
  • Physical location markers

While mobile apps may be permitted to collect this information, permission must be given by the user. The terms and conditions you ask users to agree to will need to be more than mere boilerplate, and it has to be obvious what information you intend to use and keep. Again, break these things down. Will the user have to consent each time? How long will information be stored? Is there even a business reason for having this information, and if so, what is it? It pays to be extremely cautious when collecting any data that could be deemed personal without the express approval of the user. Unless you have a use for it, it’s best not to require such data.
 
Remember, not all apps are Angry Birds or tip calculators. Smaller businesses can profit just as much from creating their own mobile apps – whether for customer outreach, expanding their services, or for something as simple as networking and sharing files. Free apps can even be used to pass certain services into customers’ own control. It’s a brave new world … just as long as you consider the legal side of your creations.

About the Author

Kyle Bachus
Kyle Bachus is a founding partner of Bachus & Schanker, LLC.  Mr. Bachus focuses his practice on representing individuals who have suffered catastrophic personal injuries.
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