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Tuesday, 13 March 2012 23:49

App licence agreements - the importance of 'all or nothing'


As an App developer, if you can't afford extensive legal advice, it's best that your EULA asks for permission to do everything.


The recent furore around Apps (on both Android AND iOS) which gleefully access contact lists and send them who-knows-where, for goodness-knows-what purpose has exposed major problems with both environments.

The more recent discovery that photos stored on the devices are equally susceptible to 'capture' has merely exacerbated the hysteria.

The problems of course are two-fold (and entirely psychological).  Firstly, the fact that that both platforms actually permit this kind of behaviour.  Note that I'm not arguing that it was done accidentally, no; instead I'm suggesting that it was a very deliberate act on the part of both Apple and Google.  Just as Facebook users have misled themselves into believing that they are in some way 'customers,' so it is with Android and iOS users; except that Apple has managed to have it both-ways; read on for why.

The major customers of both platforms are the Apps developers (and the telcos, of course), after-all, Apple takes a cut from the sale of every paid App downloaded, and Google is heading down the same path with recent news of their insistence that payments be streamed through their very own gateway in the future.

So, of course they want to keep those customers happy by providing whatever they need to "enhance the user experience" (and keep the cash rolling in).

And of course Apple is making a killing out of selling the devices that are the cause of all these issues.

We'll discuss the second problem on the next page.


Unless you develop "Angry Birds" (or it's financially lucrative equivalent), App development will really only make you moderately rich - filth-rich and obscenely-rich are probably well out of reach.

Knowing that to be true, you are unlikely to splash out on all the accoutrements of a successful company - there will be no HR department (you'll have to hire on gut-feeling), no dedicated finance team (welcome to spreadsheets at all hours of the night) and definitely no legal team.

And it's the legal team (or lack thereof) that I am training my sights on.

Writing a fine-grained End User Licence Agreement (EULA) takes time (and money) as it should spell out the options and also accurately describe the features and how to enable / disable them.

In addition, offering this facility will also add to the development time (and the complexity) of the App in order to manage which features are permitted and which forbidden while the App is executing.

Remember the comment about 'moderately-rich?'  When you might sell 100,000 copies for $5.00 and Apple takes 30% (I think that's the figure, someone will correct me if I'm wrong!) that's a total income of $350K, from which the team must be paid and other costs taken out.

Who's going to budget the extra development time and the external lawyer's fees?

Oh, and here's where the psychology kicks in.


The trick is (and most successful apps employ it) is to make the App so attractive to potential users that they can't wait to start using it.  The EULA is a mere annoyance through which they click as rapidly as possible.  This is the EULA that for costs reasons is an "all-or-nothing" agreement; either you agree to all the terms of you can agree to none of them.

Not only that, but even if these eager users did read it, they wouldn't notice the boiler-plate text that effectively transferred control of all data contained upon the device to the software vendor.

And if they actually did notice all that (congratulations - you're in the 1% minority!), the desire to use the App will almost certainly outweigh the reticence invoked by the EULA.

Congratulations - you have just committed to terms that never in your wildest nightmare would you have agreed to if they were spelled out by a competent authority (your own lawyer?).

...and don't get me started on clause-creep - that new trick whereby every update to the software you receive contains modifications to the EULA such that it eventually bears no relationship whatsoever to the original and in fact is a document to which you would NEVER have agreed when you first started using the App (or service).

I'm sorry people, but the loss of images, contacts and other data to unknown servers in unknown lands is entirely your own fault - you agreed to the terms of use - you should have read them properly.




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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.



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