Tech industry officials told a House panel on Wednesday that policymakers can help support the continued growth of the red-hot mobile-applications industry by ensuring that firms have access to a skilled workforce and that there is adequate spectrum available to power the mobile devices that apps run on.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade held a hearing to examine the nascent apps industry and whether there are obstacles that could hamper its future growth. Since Apple first opened its App Store in 2008 with a couple of hundred apps, the industry has grown substantially, with both Apple and Google stores each offering more than a half-million apps for almost any imaginable task.
The industry also is a hot source of jobs. A February study from TechNet found that apps have generated 466,000 U.S. jobs. And unlike other tech sectors, the jobs are found across the United States and not just in tech hubs like California or New York, according to the TechNet study and a new study conducted in July for the Association for Competitive Technology.
For the most part, industry officials told lawmakers that the most important thing government can do is to get out of the way. But they did say that apps firms, like other tech companies, are having trouble finding talented U.S. workers.
“One of things that will impede growth even in the apps economy” is a lack of skilled workers, TechNet CEO and President Rey Ramsey said. In addition to ensuring Americans get the skills they need, Ramsey echoed calls from other tech leaders for Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier for foreigners who graduate from U.S. schools with technical advanced degrees to stay in the United States.
Ramsey and others also called on lawmakers to help make more spectrum available. “I want more and I want it now,” ACT Executive Director Morgan Reed said when asked about the need for more spectrum.
While the apps industry has been praised for its innovation and contributions to economic growth, it is coming under pressure to do more to protect user privacy. The industry has come under fire amid reports that some apps have secretly obtained information from its users such as the address books on their phones.
Reed agreed that the industry needs to be more transparent about what data is collected and how it’s used. He noted that ACT, which represents some apps developers, has joined with other industry players and privacy advocates in participating in a Commerce Department-sponsored process to develop a voluntary industry code of conduct aimed at improving the transparency of data-collection practices among apps developers.
But some lawmakers argue that such efforts may not go far enough. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced legislation on Wednesday that would require mobile phone makers and apps providers to notify consumers if they are collecting personal information from users of a mobile phone, detail what data is being collected, and obtain consent before collecting such data.
“Consumers should know and have the choice to say 'no' to software on their mobile devices that is transmitting their personal and sensitive information,” Markey said in a statement.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., said after the hearing that consumers should be told if a mobile phone provider or app is collecting data from a consumer and said she wanted to look more closely at Markey’s measure. With the House likely to recess for the November elections next week, she acknowledged the issue would have to wait until next year.
Some industry players, however, argue that Markey’s bill could stifle the apps industry just as it’s taking off. The bill “would impose rigid privacy rules on the mobile industry that can only lead to stagnation and a loss of innovative dynamism,” Mark MacCarthy, vice president of public policy for the Software and Information Industry Association, said in a blog post on Wednesday.