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Last update: October 2021

3 mins to read - 2021/10/27

Guidelines to Developing Kids’ Apps for a Safe and Secure UX

As we shine a spotlight on mobile data privacy for app users younger than 13, we have decided to lay out some practical guidelines for developing kids’ apps. This comes on the tail of the recent discovery that 1 in 5 kids’ apps on Google Play violate COPPA. And while it’s ultimately the developer’s responsibility to make sure their apps are appropriate for kids and regulation compliant, we have compiled some basic rules of thumb for designing apps and mobile games for children. Below are a few basic guidelines to follow with regards to designing apps to protect user data, as well as ensuring they’re kid-friendly in terms of app content and monetization.

Download our Data Security Whitepaper to learn more about OpenBack’s innovative approach to data tracking and privacy regulation compliance:

iOS Guidelines for Developing Kids’ Apps

Apple has consistently been a mover and shaker when it comes to improving privacy for iOS users. As kids’ safety is a top priority for their brand, they provide a quick and easy walkthrough of things developers should keep in mind. Firstly, developers must label what age group their app is targeting. Next, Apple lays out how in addition to age-appropriate content, all kids’ apps must hinge on some sort of parental gate before users can access any sort of eCommerce page, or to follow links to external websites or social media pages. (This parental gate is not the same thing as asking parental consent to track kids’ data, as required by COPPA.)

Moreover, advertising must be reviewed by humans to determine that they are appropriate for children. That is, they may not include behavioral advertising based on user data. Also,

“In limited cases, third-party analytics may be permitted provided that the services do not collect or transmit the IDFA or any identifiable information about children (such as name, date of birth, email address), their location, or their devices.”

Google Play Guidelines for Developing Kids’ Apps

As with Apple, kids’ apps that aspire to launch on Google Play must clarify what age users they are targeting. Apps targeting both kids and adults will have to display a warning label to clarify that. They also have content guidelines that assess what sort of material is inappropriate for apps targeting kids: content glamorizing violence, drug/alcohol use, and gambling; apps providing dating or sexual advice; ads with similarly mature content; and so on.

With regards to the app UX, augmented reality apps such as Pokemon GO must include a warning for users to be aware of their surroundings, and possibly for parental supervision if it’s aimed at very young children. Also, any APIs or SDKs implemented in the app must be approved for children. And any 3rd-party software must be compliant with COPPA, GDPR, or any other relevant data privacy regulation, as the app developer will be liable for any privacy violations they commit.

Google’s Guidelines to Monetization

When advertising to children, straightforwardness is key. Ads must not be deceptive, or designed in such a way that a child will accidentally click on it. In addition to any regional requirements for advertising towards children, Google also prohibits the following:

  • Disruptive ads, including ads that take up the entire screen or interfere with normal use and do not provide a clear means to dismiss the ad

  • Ads that interfere with normal app use or game play that are not closeable after 5 seconds. Ads that do not interfere with normal app use or game play may persist for more than 5 seconds (e.g. video content with integrated ads).

  • Interstitial ads or offers for in-app purchase displayed immediately upon app launch

  • Multiple ad placements on a page (e.g. banner ads that show multiple offers in one placement or displaying more than one banner or video ad is not allowed).

  • Ads or offers for in-app purchases that are not clearly distinguishable from your app content

  • Use of shocking or emotionally manipulative tactics to encourage ads viewing or in-app purchases

  • Not providing a distinction between the use of virtual game coins versus real-life money to make in-app purchases

An example of an ad placement for other apps on Google Play that is indistinguishable from app content, Source: support.google.com

For more tips on responsible mobile marketing towards children, take a look at our blog post: Best Practices Towards Marketing to Children Online

SuperAwesome Guidelines

SuperAwesome is the gold standard when it comes to organizations and platforms dedicated to making the digital and mobile space safer for kids. They point out local regional regulations that developers should familiarize themselves with, such as the USA’s COPPA and EU’s GDPR-K for data privacy, and the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code for development standards.

Beyond mere compliance, SuperAwesome emphasizes the importance of embedding safe and ethical practices into your very app. This means providing enforceable age gates to make sure your users are the appropriate age for your app’s content, avoiding tracking children’s complete contact info or geolocation data, and collecting the behavioral data of minors is acceptable only to improve your product, and when it is anonymized.

If you do intend to track user data for this reason, SuperAwesome points out that under most guidelines and regulations for developing kids’ apps, you will have to request consent of users’ parents.

The one exception to the requirement to request parental consent – which can get in the way of app onboarding and UX – is to utilize device-side data leverage. This enables your app to be fully COPPA and GDPR-K compliant in that data never has to leave the user’s device. It remains 100% in the user’s possession and is never accessible by 3rd parties. At the same time, your app is able to leverage it to improve app UX, personalize push notifications, etc.

Currently, OpenBack is the only mobile engagement SDK that uses device-side data to send push notifications. Get in touch with one of our experts to learn more about how this can boost your revenues and long-term user retention.

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