Some Assistance with Voice Assistants

Amazon, Apple, and Google are focused on growing the use of their voice assistants (Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, respectively). Like with more traditional apps, the business model that companies are pursuing is to drive ubiquity of the platform, and allow developers to create the real value by building voice apps (called “voice skills” for Alexa) or adding voice compatibility to their existing products. The expectation is that over time, users will become increasingly comfortable with voice technology, and voice will replace touch as the default means of interacting with technology. It will replace the touch screen, that replaced the mouse, that replaced the keyboard.  The platform owners will benefit by capturing enormous amounts of data that they will find ways to monetize.

Think about it this way – today, when one of your users goes into your app, that’s a black box to the platform. They know the user is in there, but they generally can’t tell what the user is doing. With the addition of a voice layer, every time a user gives a command the device maker gets a peek into the black box, and learns a bit more about your user.

To a large extent, both developers and platform companies are learning on the fly. It’s hard to predict what types of voice skills people will come up with, what will resonate with consumers, what problems they may encounter, and how courts will resolve those issues. As a result, it’s likely that the voice assistant section of each platform’s developer agreement will be an area of frequent change.


The Amazon Developer Services Agreement

The Amazon Developer Services Agreement (formerly known as the “App Distribution and Services Agreement”) is Amazon’s standard app developer agreement. Below is a rough outline of what is contained by section. Think of this as the section-by-section, condensed, plain-English version; you’ll want to review the actual document in its entirety! Also, there are many other documents that are incorporated into the main document that may be relevant to your business. Read them! I will try to provide plain-English outlines of those documents in later posts.

Amazon Developer Services Agreement

  1. The Agreement that you’re agreeing to includes not just the body of the document, but also any relevant schedules. A schedule is applicable and becomes a part of the agreement if you engage in the schedules covered activity, so it’s worth reading the schedules to see what applies.
  2. Amazon is acting as a middle-man between end users who purchase, download, and access mobile & non-mobile apps, and the developers that create them.
  3. Amazon makes software (such as SDK, API, etc.) available for Developers to use (remember, they want to seed the Amazon app ecosystem). By using them you agree to the related terms and policies
  4. You agree to comply with all laws and protect personally identifiable information. You will get any user consent you need and respond appropriately to security breaches.
  5. You won’t hack them. You have to promise.
  6. Amazon has no obligation to promote your app, and they have sole discretion related to payments, refunds, and customer service, and sole ownership and control of all sales and other data they get.
  7. You agree to provide Amazon with any app info, logos, images, etc. that they request, and what you provide will be accurate.
  8. You keep all of your rights to your content, Amazon keeps its rights to its own technology and content. Basically, Amazon doesn’t get your IP because you have your app in their App store. You don’t own their SDK or IP because it was used to create your app. If you provide them feedback they can use it for free.
  9. The agreement begins when you click “accept,” and continues until either party terminates. You can terminate after giving Amazon 10-days prior notice. They can terminate the agreement or suspend you at any time. Be careful, your obligation to keep things confidential continues after the agreement is terminated (same with sections 1-6, 8-16).
  10. Representations & Warranties – these are things that you are agreeing are true, and Amazon is basically saying they would not have entered this agreement with you were they not. If they get sued over your app and one of these things turns out to be untrue there will be serious consequences. Some of these are standard, but be sure that you have any rights, copyright, or IP that your app needs (if you don’t know, hire an attorney), that there is no malware in your code.
  11. You agree that if Amazon gets sued over your app, you’ll hire an expensive attorney to defend them, and if you lose, you’ll cover their cost. When larger companies negotiate these they typically indemnify each other. In this case it’s one-sided in Amazon’s favor.
  12. You agree to keep everything confidential. Notice there are no corresponding obligations for Amazon to keep your information confidential (although it’s probably bad business for them to leak a bunch of their developers’ IP).
  13. Trademarks – they’ll let you use their logo etc. but you have to do it according to their guidelines.
  14. Limitation of liability – Amazon is doing the best they can and they won’t be responsible if something they do destroys your app or gets you sued. The max they will pay you is $100. Seriously. Don’t be alarmed by the all-caps, these things are always written that way so they’re “conspicuous.”  
  15. Amazon reserves the right to change the agreement unilaterally. This is one of the tricky things about these agreements; you agree to a set of terms, and down the road Amazon may change those terms. They don’t really have to give you any notice except to post the new terms on the website. The only thing you can do is give them notice that you want to terminate the agreement (remember, 10 days notice from section 9, above).
  16. General – this section is a catch-all containing a bunch of pretty standard legal provisions. Among other things it explains a bit about the relationship between you and Amazon (independent contractors) and says you’re going to pay your taxes. It says that any disputes will be settled using Washington state law. If you need to give official notice of something (for instance, that you’re terminating the agreement, or selling your company).