Interview with Lou Da Re, Executive Director at CleanApps.org

Josiah Motley · January 20, 2020 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/4f6d

A look at making better, compliant apps and the resources that make it easier to understand

It seems like every company has their own apps now. Whether it is pizza delivery or dating services, there is seemingly an app for everything.

This apps aren't just from huge companies with infinite money either, small developers and businesses are also creating apps for platforms like iOS and Android. Something many of these smaller groups may not realize however is that there are many rules and regulations for providing apps.

Rules for the individual platforms and bigger, overarching rules regarding government regulations are something developers need to think about, but wading through endless paperwork to understand compliance is time-consuming and quite honestly, difficult.

That's why CleanApps.org exists - this group helps app makers, marketers, and more understand what is going on behind the scenes to help them build compliant apps across the board.

I had the chance to interview Lou Da Re of CleanApps, so make sure to read on for the full interview.

Image: Unsplash

Care to introduce yourself and your role with CleanApps.org?

My name is Lou Da Re. I am the Executive Director here at CleanApps.org. As ED, I run all facets of the organization with a specific focus of sustaining and expanding the growing membership base.   Having primarily held the positions of VP Sales and Business Development in companies selling software in software utility markets over the past few decades, I am now applying my experience to help the community of app makers across the Internet.  

There are so many compliance-related aspects to maintaining a successful app business and my time as VP of Operations and Business Development at GTSI (which was at that time the largest distributor of software to the Federal Government) gives me a unique ability to communicate the value of CleanApps.org to prospective members.   For example, at GTSI, I worked directly with every major software company, helping them steer through the rules and regulations mandated for selling to the Federal Government.

In my roles as VP Sales and/or VP Business Development at companies such as Condusiv, Panda Software US and iolo Technologies, I created and coached teams that brought in double- and triple-digit growth in sales.  This experience now drives my purpose in both my personal and business life where it is my intention to help others succeed and achieve their goals. CleanApps.Org is a great vehicle that does just that by informing its members of best practices, helping them navigate the ever more complex rules and regulations for marketing and selling apps on the web, while at the same time promoting a fair app marketplace, and advocating for consumer privacy and security. 

In just a few sentences, what is CleanApps.org?

CleanApps.org is a Business Association for App Makers, Marketers and their enablers (device platforms, ad platforms, payment processors, call centers,). 

We represent a central repository of information critical to app businesses.  We provide newsletters, blogs, webinars and conferences that share the latest rules and regs as well as what may be coming down the pipe.   This information helps app businesses plan for the changes rather than react to them when subjected to an enforcement action (which in most cases are very costly).  As our membership has grown we have also recognized that we’ve also become a community of likeminded companies and business people who can share best practices as well as find new contacts, business partners and customers.

Where possible, we advocate for our members for reasonable rules and laws governing the development, behavior, marketing, and sales of Apps.   For example, we participate in meetings hosted by AppEsteem.com with the anti-virus community where they discuss existing and new deceptive software policies.  This gives us the opportunity to provide the voice and perspective of the app industry as they consider their options.  We hope to gain this type of advocacy with other ecosystem ‘regulators’ such as Microsoft, Google, both from an app store perspective as well as an ad platform perspective. 

What inspired the creation of the company?

The founding board, which is composed of app makers that have been around for over 25 years, had each observed that the previously unregulated ‘wild west’ of the internet had new sources for enforcement actions at an increasing pace.  It was no longer enough to look to government regulators such as the FTC for guidance.

As platforms are now enforcing new ad policies; anti-virus companies were expanding their blocking to include ‘potentially unwanted apps’ (‘PUA’); app stores were enforcing new app behavior rules to get into or remain in their stores; payment processors were enforcing new cart disclosure and communication requirements; the list goes on. Recognizing that not all app makers had the financial resources to keep tabs on new ad policies, new payment processing rules, new privacy laws, or even new security-related policies, they decided to form CleanApps.org to help app makers better plan their roadmaps and adjust business practices ahead of the changing landscape.

The genesis of CleanApps.org was the experience of the founders of having their companies hit by unknown new rules and regulations that affected their ability sell to their customers (for example, a new ad policy that shut down massive ad campaigns unless certain disclosure requirements were met on landing pages) or to even retain existing customers (for example, a new rule which resulted in an App being removed from a platform).  Without warning a large group of customers could be wiped out overnight or entire ad platform accounts can get shut down without so much as a warning. In some cases, the enforcement actions are simply a nuisance to work through. In other cases, an otherwise thriving business can be brought to its knees.

If there is one thing that these veteran app businesses have learned over time, it is that predictability of revenue is key to a sustainable business. No business likes external change because those changes put that predictability at risk. So, it’s critical for any business to stay ahead of changing business conditions.  That is what the founders hoped CleanApps.org could help provide to its members. 

CleanApps.org endeavors to stay on top of this information and inform its members ahead of time to avoid what can be quite a hit to revenue and growth. 

As the founders recognized that there was no organization filling the role of an App Trade Organization, they pooled their resources and networks together to form CleanApps.org.

What are some of the biggest issues app developers face that they may not realize?

App developers are great at keeping up to date on existing and emerging technologies allowing them to create better apps. However, the ability to market those apps and keep acquired installs is another matter altogether that has almost nothing to do with tech.  It has everything to do with consistently communicating value, following app store rules, ad platform rules, security industry requirements, and payment processing rules. In some cases on a per-country basis. This affects roadmaps and business models. It is incumbent on app developers to be aware of regulations across the spectrum in order to properly plan their roadmaps and acquisition funnels.

In terms of recently developing regulatory issues affecting apps, there are two big ones I can think of: new privacy regulation following GDPR and CCPA and payment processing policy related to negative options and free trials.

Back in September of last year, Visa announced new negative option requirements that will be enforced by March 2020.  This affects those app and SaaS vendors that provide free trials that require a credit card upfront. If they do not adhere to the new rules, they put their merchant accounts at risk which in some cases could be an existential threat to the business.

With respect to emerging privacy regulations, app businesses are prime targets from regulators since apps represent a major source data collection about consumers.  And it's not just government regulators. For example, both Google Ads and Bing Ads have posted blog articles stating that they expect advertisers using their respective platforms to be GDPR compliant.  This means that app vendors promoting their wares on Google and Bing risk seeing their campaigns or even ad accounts shut down once enforcement actions begin.

Bottom line is that regulations are being implemented at an ever-increasing rate and regulations can have a trickledown effect.  As a result of the new Visa rule, for example, a new security industry policy such as "utility apps may not take payment without providing a free trial period" (just to illustrate) is determined and planned to go into effect in 60 days.  Unless the App Developer has eyes and ears to the ground (which CleanApps.org does) this can go unnoticed and all of a sudden, their sales come to a screeching halt and/or their installs are removed when this "new rule" is implemented.

That is basically it, rules and regulations being implemented that the app developers are not aware of. On the other side, as CleanApps.org grows we have more and more of a voice and we can ADVOCATE for our membership - to shape rules, get rules changed if they don't make sense and so forth.

For any aspiring app creators reading this, what kind of tips can you offer for those just getting started?

Get your privacy policy done right and get your app/site terms and conditions right.  We’re seeing more and more regulators actually look at these for new policy enforcement.  Privacy is a huge area of focus for government regulators with new laws coming out from all corners of the world. While many app makers might think they’re too small to be on anyone’s radar, experience tells us otherwise.  Make no mistake, GDPR, the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), are not just for the large tech firms.

In fact, we’re already seeing what I call a trickle-down effect to the ad platforms in relation to all the new privacy laws.  Government regulations have a way of getting the large tech companies to create new business policies just so that they can show that they are following the law. Those new business policies inevitably impact the smaller app vendors that aren’t necessarily keeping track.  For example, Google Ads and Bing Advertising have each published policies that can affect an app maker’s ability to promote their apps. In fact, we know of one member that had their Bing advertising account shut down until they became compliant; they even lost their organic Bing traffic during that time.

Honestly, that is just one tip of many and different tips have different relevance depending on the app type, how it behaves, or how the app monetizes.  Selling subscriptions have different compliance requirements than apps that make money from showing ads for example. That’s why CleanApps never runs out of topics to cover in our newsletter, monthly webinars, and our in-person events. We try to cover all app types and app monetization methods.

On the other end, with so many apps being considered security risks and for those involved with data breaches, what should end-users look for when downloading a new app?

For end-users, it's important that they protect themselves by having a good anti-virus and browser software that blocks deceptive apps (and does not block safe apps).  Not all anti-virus software does a good job with this. While I personally recommend looking at Microsoft Defender for an AV because it's free, I encourage everyone to search for something called the ‘Deceptor Fighter Report’ (which. Isn’t from CleanApps, but still comes highly recommended) for a list of tested choices.

I would also recommend everyone pause a second before installing any app.  Its usually pretty easy to tell who to trust just looking at the web site’s privacy policy, terms, and contact info.  Do they sell your data? Is there a refund or is it easy to cancel? Do they show ads? Can they be contacted? If they aren’t spelled out or don’t look right to you, don’t install the app.  Chances are pretty good there’s an alternative that does business the way you want.

Again, for app creators, what are a few very basic tips that developers can use to make sure their apps are safe/compliant?

Become a member of CleanApps.org, contribute, and participate in our events!

That or independently ensure you understand all the rules around the operation of apps, around how they can be marketed, downloaded, and sold. The rules of major platforms like Google, Apple, Bing, Microsoft, the payment processors, etc.

Here’s a partial cheat-sheet of just some of the many regulators that can effectively cripple a non-compliant app or business.   It’s only a matter of time before one or more will affect an app business.

Security-app vendors:  

  •   Know what is considered deceptive so your app does not end up removed.

Search engine policymakers/enforcers:

  •   Stay on top of search engine policies.  A change in company policy can kill your organic traffic.

Ad platform makers/enforcers:

  •   Keep yourself up to date on new ad policies to avoid ad campaigns getting turned off or even an entire ad account closed.

Browsers, app stores, and app platforms:

  •   Make sure that your know what is coming down the pipe as it could affect not just your roadmap but also your entire user base.  For example, Microsoft Edge Chromium is replacing the original Edge browser. App makers that created original Edge extensions might lose most of their user base if they are not prepared.

Government including FTC and privacy-related"

  •   FTC’s “Prenotification Negative Option Rule”, EU’s GDPR, California’s COPP

Thanks for taking the time to answer some of my questions, anything you'd like to close with?

We’re super excited about our upcoming annual CleanApps Summit 2020 event at the Linq Hotel in Las Vegas on Sunday January 26th, 2020.  It is free to all registered RSVPs.  Details and agenda can be viewed on our website. 

Attending this event provides our members with a great chance to network, do business, and learn what CleanApps.org is all about. I’d like to extend an invitation to all app makers from startups to veteran companies to come and see what we are all about.

I'd like to thank Lou for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

Image Description

Josiah Motley

Writer of things. Have been featured on multiple tech blogs and love watching trends in the app market.

All author posts

Read more from our "Interviews" series

More episodes