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New offering aims to take sting out of COPPA compliance for Unity devs

New offering aims to take sting out of COPPA compliance for Unity devs

June 3, 2014 | By Kris Graft

About a year ago, the Federal Trade Commission passed the latest version of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Now, one company is offering a way to help mobile game developers comply with COPPA's complex guidelines.

AgeCheq, which specializes in cloud-based privacy management systems, today announced availability of its Unity SDK, allowing mobile game developers using Unity to more easily fall in line with kid-focused government-mandated privacy laws. (SDK and documentation is found here.)

Failing COPPA compliance can cause major financial headaches for mobile app and game developers to the tune of up to $16,000 per child affected, according to Roy Smith, who founded AgeCheq last year. That kind of penalty can put a big dent in a major business, or put a small developer out of business.

But despite the weight of the issue, a lot of game developers misunderstand COPPA compliance, or simply don't want to deal with it due to its complex nature, says Smith.

"It's extremely difficult for a developer to get COPPA compliance on their own," he says. AgeCheq's Unity SDK is a cloud-based solution, free for small independent developers, that helps game makers comply with the law. Large companies with heavy volumes of users can sign up for a paid version that has more features and analytics.

Angel investors who saw the growing need for services like AgeCheq helped the company recently complete a six-week long $1 million funding round.

COPPA was originally passed in 2000, and was meant to protect personally identifiable information (PII) of children under 13. The first iteration was focused on websites, but with the proliferation of mobile apps and their ability to collect such a wide, deep array of user data, a new version was passed in December 2012, and actually went into effect in July last year. (Smith goes deeper into COPPA compliance in his Gamasutra blog.)

AgeCheq's solution covers key COPPA measures by:

- Making sure the game positively identifies the parent in charge of the app

- Giving the parent a dashboard to manage the apps that they're allowing kids to use

- Making sure the game discloses to the parent, before a child can play the game, all the private data that the game captures

- Making sure that if the parent decides to stop their kid from playing a game, all the data that it captured while playing will be deleted

AgeCheq's Unity SDK allows developers to automatically import all AgeCheq files directly into a game. You submit your developer key, app ID, then recompile. Implementing it takes about five minutes.

Smith admits that although AgeCheq's Unity SDK streamlines COPPA compliance, "Our system takes away probably 85 percent of the pain." The game developer still has to actually disclose what information the game captures, and must adequately protect the data their game captures in an organized way. And AgeCheq's solution doesn't delete third-party-collected data from services like ad networks.

"People want a quick fix - a pill that can make you a foot taller. We can't do that, but we can do what we can do," Smith says. "But to comply with COPPA, you do need proper data management systems within your company."

COPPA is something that game developers have to deal with head-on. Both Apple and Google lobbied hard to exclude themselves, as platform holders, from COPPA-compliance. Moves such as iOS 8's Ask to Buy option - which allows for parental approval of purchases - are focused on parental approval, not COPPA and kids' privacy. Apple in particular wants to avoid another $32.5 million refund settlement.

"Neither Apple nor Google have shown any sign of wanting to get in the COPPA business," says Smith. "In fact, they spent money to get out of the COPPA business."

He adds, "There's a lot of plumbing and notification that is completely alien to what a game developer does. We've taken care of that."

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