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Game Changers: Mobile Gaming Apps and Data Privacy

 Susan Crawford, Jonathan Zittrain and Lisa Brem  
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37 pages
Product Type:
Workshop-Based Case Study
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By mid-2012, the very nature of the digital economy was in the midst of a tectonic shift. A dominant business model for online companies was to provide free service to users in return for their information, which was used to attract advertisers, app makers and other business opportunities.  

App companies wrestled with how to remain innovative and pursue an aggressive growth strategy while protecting users’ data and avoiding potential liability. With the Internet becoming a more valuable advertising platform lawyers, privacy advocates, and government regulators grappled with issues such as ethical and legal boundaries for online companies when setting privacy policies and terms of use, protection of users’ privacy, and fair exchange of personal data for free apps and online services. There were also questions about who should dictate the rules of engagement between consumers, app developers, and app publishers.

In meantime, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started increasing the pace and scope of its actions. It initiated swift action against some of the biggest social media companies and internet companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google, and recommended baseline privacy legislation and more stringent industry self-regulation.

The case explores the dilemmas faced by two central players in the emerging digital economy: the app makers and regulators. The app makers confront the issue of reconciling pressure from investors to “cash in” on user data with the insistence from regulators and privacy advocates to crack down on data sharing and gathering.  With no formal regulations to govern terms of use or privacy policies, how should a mobile app company craft such statements?

The FTC and other regulators face the issue of balancing protecting the privacy of individual end users without stifling innovation in one of the brightest sectors of the economy. Should the regulators step in with binding regulations or should they trust the online industry to regulate itself? What amount of  intervention is the right amount?

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the general state of U.S. law on consumer data privacy, particularly in the online industry, and the current practices of online companies regarding customer data.
  • Explore the ethical, legal, and business issues involved in providing a mobile app service that also gathers and uses customer data.
  • Be able to discuss and assess various regulatory options (baseline privacy law, sector-specific laws, industry self-regulation, or some combination of these) to address the growing collection and use of consumer data in the online industry.
  • Discuss how best to craft privacy policies and terms of use policies for mobile app companies that engage in gathering user data, taking into account the legal and reputational risks of gathering and using such data. 

Subjects Covered

Cyberlaw, Government Law, Privacy and Consumer Data Law

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Additional Information

Case Studies in Cyber-Citizenship

Information Law and Policy: Advanced Problem Solving Workshop

Conversation Starters: Case Studies for Curricular Reform

The Problem Solving Workshop: A Video Introduction

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