Rising Concerns About App Quality and Integrity

You may have come across our recent post entitled Modern Day Parenting and Mobile Apps where we detail the misconduct of a particular app, namely ‘Call Blaze and the Monster Machines’, which has been marketed to children 3 years and older, though presents them with unsavoury content of an adult nature when they use the app. Following this warning to parents of young children, we thought we would take a look at the app once more, as a means of pointing out various forms of malpractice utilised by this app and many others on various stores.

Why are we doing this? Because we believe that for the app industry’s potential to be reached, that it is up to both developers and users to raise their expectations and to not accept any bad practices during development.

Call Blaze and the Monster Machines: A Summary

For those who haven’t heard, the abovementioned app has been marketed to kids as a game by which they receive a call from beloved characters from a Nickelodeon show called Blaze and the Monster Machines. The app is free, and claims to be suitable to kids three years and older. However, after opening it (and being bombarded by streams of adverts), the user is greeted with the following monologue, spoken in a demonic-clown voice, as though it were on the other end of the phone:

“Hi Kids, I’m your new friend; Happy-Slabby, whatever you want me to be called. You see, I want to play with you, Kiddo. Maybe we could perform some fun games together. What’s this hog-wash? You look afraid! Is it this knife in my whirly-dirly hands; making you a little nervous, huh? That’s alright, ‘cos this knife is going to improve your look when it’s sticking right out of you!”

And that is the entire purpose of the app. To scare kids, and possibly even traumatise them. At face value it looks bad enough, but when you pull the various aspects of the app apart, it gets a little worse…

Design and User Experience

So, let’s start by speaking about the design aspects of the app, which in this case have been put together to be purposely misleading. It’s fairly plain to see. Everything from the graphics and colour scheme to the description of the app on the store is laid out to attract young children and encourage them to download and use the app. It is also made to be disinteresting to adults at first glance, lessening the chance of parents personally inspecting the app for themselves. There is also an odd mixture of languages and spelling errors in the app’s text, a sure-fire sign that is was designed with as little care as possible. In a comparison between this app and others created by the same developer, one can see that each one is based on a similar template and are almost identical; save for the differences in the characters they represent. Their designs are hardly innovative, and app development companies understand the need for originality in all of their builds.

Advertising, Spam and Privacy Protection

Now, let’s move on to advertising. Free apps need to make money somewhere, and generally they choose to run a few adverts when it is being used. However, with regards to this app, advertising is done wrong for a couple of reasons:

  1. Firstly, ads pop up literally every time any action is taken on the app, with the user seeing at least three before it has even fully launched. This inundation is spammy and takes a lot away from the user experience.
  2. Secondly, the nature of the ads on the app are not relevant to the user (who would normally be children). They advertise flights, adult games and other niches not appropriate for younger viewers.
  3. The format of the ads is inappropriate for children as well, since they are made up of lengthy lists of writing, small text and fairly tricky confirm or cancel bars which can easily mislead young users into engaging with the advertised content instead of carrying on with the game.

So, before we have even been greeted by the demonic and threatening clown in the app, we have already been exposed to bad advertising for other (possibly dodgy) apps. But that isn’t where the developer’s misconduct ends.

There are further concerns for user privacy to consider as well. On the app’s external download site (since it has been removed from the Google Play Store), the requirements for the app are laid out as follows:

  • permission.INTERNET: Allows applications to open network sockets.
  • permission.ACCESS_NETWORK_STATE: Allows applications to access information about networks.
  • permission.ACCESS_WIFI_STATE: Allows applications to access information about Wi-Fi networks.
  • permission.ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION: Allows an app to access approximate location.
  • permission.WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE: Allows an application to write to external storage.
  • permission.READ_PHONE_STATE: Allows read only access to phone state.

Most of these requirements are necessary for the app’s functionality, however there are one or two that may be a concern or surprise, especially as far as privacy goes. I speak specifically about its ability to write to external storage, as well as its ability to determine the user’s location. In both of these instances, the permissions are not necessary to keep the app functional. So, as a question to possibly concerned parents, why would they need to read and write content on your phone or tablet, and why on Earth would it need to know your location? Considering it’s a deceitful app that threatens kids with a knife; the answer is doubtfully a comforting one.

Marketing to an Appropriate Audience

We touched on this lightly in the paragraphs above, but since this little piece of malpractice seems to be the cornerstone of the app, it is worth exploring in greater detail. The app is given an age rating of three years and older. The characters that it claims to represent are favourites amongst younger app users, and even the gnarled voice in the app addresses the user as ‘kiddo’ and ‘kid’, dispelling any reason to believe that the app was made for anyone but children. While this app has purposefully targeted an irrelevant audience, it should serve as a reminder for responsible developers to consider carefully who their target audience is, and should create content that is appropriate for them.

Copyright Infringements

And now we talk about the elephant in the room, the unforgivable sin of the creative world that has, in this case, been overshadowed by the apps illicit function. I am of course talking about their obvious and malicious use of copyright infringement in representing characters that, in essence, were dreamed up and developed by Nickelodeon Studios. The app makes no direct reference to the original creator, but only piggy-backs off of the success of their creation. Smart Play Store browsers would have used this as an excuse to pass the app by without downloading it. But even if every phone user isn’t as critical about the content they download, it is fairly surprising that Nickelodeon themselves didn’t stand in to protect the reputation of their creation.

Contact Applord to Learn More About Having an App Developed

There is a lot to consider when developing an app, and any responsible developer should take the time to ensure that they build according to the best practices set out by industry standards. Though in an industry where many practitioners are self-taught, there is often a complete absence of understanding when it comes to ethical development. If you are having an app built for your company, product or service, consider having a dynamic app developed by Applord. Contact one of our representatives today to learn more about our services, or visit our website for more details.

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