Buy your apps.

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It may seem odd given my recent post explaining why I will not be buying an app that I would encourage my dear loyal reader(s) to buy their mobile apps but a recent discussion with my children has prompted me to do so.

“Dad, what will your next vehicle be…a truck?”

Me: “A truck would be nice, it sure would make towing the camper trailer easier.”

“If you buy a truck, you should buy a Dodge.”

Me: “Why is that?”

“They can tow anything!”

Me: “Thanks, buddy…how do you know that?”

This discussion leads me to the first reason I believe schools (and school districts) should buy apps for their students, children are extremely susceptible to advertising. This should not be news to anyone. In fact, in Canada, advertisers have been governed by the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards since 1963. The code states “advertising that is directed to children must not exploit their credulity, lack of experience or their sense of loyalty, and must not present information or illustrations that might result in their physical, emotional or moral harm.” This is good in theory, and we can see these standards play out in broadcast media, but I would challenge anyone using a “free” children’s app to look discerningly at the in-app ads and maintain that they meet this standard, and in a world of rotating push advertising, that they meet this standard all the time. The response I hear most often to this concern is “we just ignore them.” I refer back to the Code and highlight the “lack of experience” children have. As adults, we recognise the almost coercive power of advertising, all the hooks that are specifically designed to get us to click through. Children have not yet developed this “muscle” but if anything, it would be an excellent topic for class discussion. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Paying Attention to Literacy Literacy involves the capacity to access, manage, create and evaluate information. This could lead to some fascinating and helpful discussions around advertising and its role in the new digital media.

Let me be clear, I do not have anything against content creators getting paid. In fact, it is the opposite. Have you ever tried to program an app? It is hard work, even harder to make all the visual elements of the app appealing. An article in Venture Beat reported that app store superstar Supercell, makers of Clash of Clans, Boom Beach and Hay Day, made profits of $964 million on revenue of $2 326 million in 2015. To put that another way, Supercell had expenses of $1 362 million to create and support just three apps. That is an oversimplified view of their operations to be sure but it gives an idea of the cost and effort it takes to create compelling apps. A Business Insider report pegged the cost to produce Grand Theft Auto V at $266 million. Again, an extreme example but the point is, developing an app is challenging and the people doing it deserve to be compensated. I think the best model for allowing that to happen in a mobile app store is the in-app purchase of advertising removal. In a school, this would allow the teacher to try the app at no cost and if deemed appropriate for the classroom, remove the advertising with an in app purchase. Unfortunately this method does not work well on a school district level where Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP) is typically used to purchase apps. Recommendations for a work around are described on Jamf Nation

Finally, app advertising can create security risks. This will get a little bit technical but some of the new attack vectors related to app advertising are worth noting. Cloudflare details on their blog how an ad network can be leveraged to kick off a distributed denial of service attack. While one of the appeals of the iOS App Store is that it is curated and secured, there is a much lower level of security and curation on the ads that are served. In fact, iOS 10.3 rolled out with support for 3rd party advertising. This opens the door for exploits similar to Stegano which targeted website banner advertising. This attack vector could be used to exploit a future vulnerability in iOS or Android.

In summary, there are three reasons to purchase apps for our students (free apps are not free):

There is a cost to allowing our children to be bombarded with ads
There is a cost to develop the apps we want to use
There is a cost to opening up an additional attack vector into our devices

What do you think of ad supported apps in the classroom?

Categories School, Educational Technology


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