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AgeCheq aims to bridge child-protection app development gap

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A Central Pennsylvania “serial entrepreneur” is moving forward with his latest venture, AgeCheq Inc., a company writing software tools to help mobile-device app developers meet federal requirements for the protection of child privacy.

Last week, Roy Smith took AgeCheq to the App Developers Conference and Game Developers Conference Next in Los Angeles to unveil the idea. Smith said the trip was successful.

"We talked to at least 30 app development companies," he said in an email Monday. "Some of them were only vaguely aware of (the child protection law) and its potential to ruin their business if they got on the wrong side of it. Others were very aware and as a result were very happy to see what we are doing, and are moving quickly to get started with AgeCheq."

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, is a 1998 federal law requiring greater protections and collection restrictions on personal information about children. Companies with websites targeted to children under 13 are required to gain parental consent.

However, the law never envisioned the massive amounts of information collected through mobile-device apps, which didn't exist in 1998. Congress updated the law in 2012 and, as of this summer, software developers needed to provide in-app tools to comply.

AgeCheq is a free tool to developers that will help bridge that gap, making their apps compliant with COPPA as well as giving parents greater control over the privacy of their children's information, Smith said. That's important to both sides of the equation.

"Smartphones are the new computer," he said. "It's now mainstream."

Smith was most recently vice president of marketing for Lancaster-based appMobi Inc., the app-development software company started as BroadClip in 2006. Smith left appMobi in February after tech giant Intel Corp. acquired the company's development tools division.

Smith also was a co-founder of Lancaster-based Wellspring FV, a startup investment firm that provided executive management expertise. He got his start in the tech world in 1985 when he co-founded Turtle Beach, a company that expanded the multimedia capabilities of PCs with high-quality sound. After he sold the company, it went on to become a premier audio and headset company for video games.

Smith said he has more investors today than he had in some of his early ventures.

"He's been doing it for a lifetime now. He's got good experience and good contacts. ... He's good at being one step ahead," said Keith Hassler, a York County attorney and one of AgeCheq's investors.

He declined to say what his stake in the new company is but said he liked how Smith aimed to solve a real problem with AgeCheq. Hassler and Smith have known each other for about 30 years.

"I've seen the things he's done," Hassler said, "and the idea of AgeCheq being driven by compliance seems like a good business strategy."

Getting investment for another software company is a little easier once you've been established for a while, Smith said.

AgeCheq's system gives app developers a few lines of code they can incorporate into their programs.

Parents can fill out paperwork verifying their information and send it to AgeCheq once, or use a quick-check process that involves a $10 credit charge and answering several questions, Smith said. An add-on paid service allowing parents to monitor their children's online activity is another way the company can make money around its initially free service to developers.

"In the digital world, people will allow you to make money while they're using your product, but they won't pay for (the product itself)," Smith said.

The main clientele, developers, have two other worries. How harsh will the Federal Trade Commission's penalties be on app developers in violation of COPPA, and will AgeCheq work with their products?

"(Developers) are most concerned about, 'If I put this in my game, will it screw up my game?'" Smith said.

That won't be a problem, he said. The code is designed to work with apps written for multiple device platforms.

At the conference last week, AgeCheq picked up four app development partners, which Smith called "major" publishers. He declined to release company names because discussions are ongoing.

Smith said he wants to hire a staff for AgeCheq in the near future. Unlike his past startups, the value of the company isn't necessarily in a sale to a larger firm, he said. It's better to be the neutral party helping everyone.

"We're sort of like Switzerland," Smith said.

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