04.09.10

Updated: New iPhone Developer Agreement Bans the Use of Third-Party Analytics and Services

The updated iPhone Developer Agreement includes stringent clauses around the acceptable use of storing, transmitting, and processing user data. Here is the updated section 3.3.9 in its entirety. I have added emphasis to clauses I would like to highlight:

3.3.9 The following requirements apply to You and Your Application’s use, collection, processing, maintenance, uploading, syncing, storage, transmission, sharing and disclosure of User Data:

- All use of User Data collected or obtained through an Application must be limited to the same purpose as necessary to provide services or functionality for such Application. For example, the use of User Data collected on and used in a social networking Application could be used for the same purpose on the website version of that Application; however, the use of location-based User Data for enabling targeted advertising in an Application is prohibited unless targeted advertising is the purpose of such Application (e.g., a geo-location coupon application).

- You may only provide or disclose User Data to third parties as necessary for providing services or functionality for the Application that collected the User Data, and then only if You receive express user consent. For example, if Your Application would like to post a message from a user to a third party social networking site, then You may only share the message if the user has explicitly indicated an intention to share it by clicking or selecting a button or checking a box that clearly explains how the message will be shared.

- Notwithstanding anything else in this Agreement, Device Data may not be provided or disclosed to a third party without Apple’s prior written consent. Accordingly, the use of third party software in Your Application to collect and send Device Data to a third party for processing or analysis is expressly prohibited.

- You must provide information to users regarding Your use and/or Transmission of User Data and explain how Your Application will use User Data, e.g., by providing information in the App Store marketing text that accompanies Your Application on the App Store, by adding an About box within Your Application, or by adding a link to Your privacy policy on Your website.

- You and the Application must take appropriate steps to protect any User Data from unauthorized disclosure or access. If a user ceases to consent to Your use and/or Transmission of User Data, You must promptly cease all such use and/or Transmission and destroy any such information from Your records (except to the limited extent necessary for Your Application back- ups and record-keeping or as otherwise prohibited by law).

Location Based Advertising

The first emboldened clause states that location based advertisements can only be included in advertisements whose only goal is providing location based advertising. My interpretation of this clause is that unless an application’s sole purpose is providing location based advertisements in the form of nearby coupons, offers, or sales, then location based advertisements are not allowed. This is interesting, because the promise of applications like FourSquare, Gowalla, and Loopt is that through a social network of seeing where your friends are, businesses will be able to add value to the experience by targeting users most likely to make a real-world purchase – if I check in to a store at the mall, what better opportunity for a business five stores down to promote their sale.

The line here is unclear in that I don’t use FourSquare (or any other check-in service) for the sole purpose of finding nearby deals, but rather to see where my friends are. The language in the Developer Agreement suggests that check-in services like the aforementioned will not be able to provide auxiliary location based ads. Ad networks looking to capitalize on the promise of location based advertisements will undoubtedly have a lot of qualms with this clause as it effectively eliminates the ability to provide fine-grained location targeting with GPS or AGPS, leaving the traditional city-level IP-Table lookups as the only means of approximating a user’s location. One has to question whether iAd will adhere to these same targeting guidelines.

Third-Party Data Providers

The second emboldened clause spells trouble for third-party providers building services on top of the iPhone ecosystem, including analytics companies, data stores like SimpleGeo, and potentially third-party ad networks. The clause states that an application can not include a third-party library which sends data to their servers for “processing”. I put processing in quotes because it’s an overloaded term that could mean a lot of things – If I throw some data into a database and count how much disc space I’ve used, that could be considered “processing”. It is unclear whether this bans third-party ad networks as all of them receive data from the device and run optimization analysis in some capacity. Whether or not Apple will enforce all current applications running networks like AdMob or MediaLets to switch to iAd remains to be seen, but the move would be highly controversial and would spark a giant clusterfuck of anti-trust violations from Google and the like.

The clause all but signals the death of third-party analytics software built to provide application developers information about how their applications are being used (Disclaimer: I was the co-founder of AppLoop, which we shut down about 14 months ago). The web example of these services is Google Analytics, which provides millions of people with useful information to optimize their websites and provide better user experiences. Apple previously didn’t make a public stance forbidding the use of third-party analytics tools like Flurry (which acquired Pinch Media a few months ago), MediaLets, or MobClix, but it is hard to put a spin on this agreement which would allow these services to operate under the new agreement.

This move comes at somewhat of a surprise given how important customer feedback is in the product development cycle – iPhone AppStore review quality is mediocre at best, and there really is no other way to optimize how applications are used to improve quality (something Apple has previously touted). If this is enforced, it will leave a gaping opportunity for Android developers to listen to their customers, improve application quality, and bring the Android ecosystem on par with the AppStore in terms of content quality, quantity, and diversity.

In all, the updates to section 3.3.9 allow Apple to selectively enforce whatever they want on whoever they want. Although they’re already doing this to some extent, the updated terms allow them to do so legitimately.

Update 4/14/2010

Venturebeat has posted an email received from an iPhone developer who received a response from Apple regarding Flurry, which was one of the analytics companies mentioned in this post:

We’ve reviewed your application and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store. It is not appropriate for applications to gather user analytics. Specifically, you may not collect anonymous play data from a user’s game. A screenshot of this issue has been attached for your reference.

In order for your application to be reconsidered for the App Store, please resolve this issue and upload your new binary to iTunes Connect.

It appears as if Apple is calling an audible on the new agreement as they don’t yet have definitive standards internally for what they will and will not allow:

They basically said the new clauses are for 4.0 (not accepting 4.0 apps yet) and they haven’t decided what will be allowed and what won’t be allowed. They said they will discuss with guys like [mobile analytics vendor] Flurry, etc.

This will be one to watch. It’s almost certain that Analytics companies just got shot in the foot, but the real question will be whether Apple forces developers to switch from Admob or MediaLets to its own proprietary iAd advertising network. I will reiterate this from my original post: the updates to section 3.3.9 allow Apple to selectively enforce whatever they want on whoever they want.

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