What kind of permissions do I need to obtain from the developer of an app if I am planning to use it in a study? The study primarily aims to look at how different students learn mobile games differently, and what factors determines their score.

Since it is relevant to the study, we would also have to analyse the game itself, quantify how the difficulty evolves over time, and what amount of randomness is involved in each gameplay (to get somehing like a stochastic index).

  1. So, in case this ever goes to publication, would mentioning the app-name be necessary, since its characterisation would already be a part of it?
  2. Do we need to obtain permission before even using it, since it is already a free app in the play store? Doesn't its free status give us permission to use it in a study (at least an unpublished one)?

There are no commercial interests in either of the cases. I am not sure if it is okay to mention the name here too. Sorry if I seem to be over-thinking but I am new to the world of academia! Any guidance is appreciated. (Unsure of the tags too)

2 Answers 2

  1. Yes, of course you should mention the name of the app. You have to provide details of your methodology. You should also cite the app (I see this commonly done by citing the app store page for it, but maybe your field has a different convention).
  2. I have never heard of a researcher obtaining permission to run a study involving particular software. I have led or collaborated on about ten human-subjects studies involving a variety of free and commercial software.
  • Importantly, you should cite the VERSION of the app as well as its name, and if possible make sure that it is possible to obtain that version, for the sake of reproducibility (though this may conflict with copyright considerations).
    – Flyto
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 9:51
  • Here is the App in question. This game will be given to the participants, and their gameplay recorded and then analysed. My only issue was copyright, since I am analysing the way the game works also. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 5:20

I don't think you need permission, nor do I think there should be any ethical issues in regards to the application. So long as:

  • you are not decompiling,
  • you are not going to cause it any undue criticism or show the application in bad light.
  • you don't give the appearance of association with the developers if it isn't the case
  • you are also not going to compete with the application and that,
  • you don't breach copyright by using logos etc unnecessarily i.e. outside fair use.

The people in the study and their use of the application will however have some potential for ethical issues.

  • 1
    There are many, many published papers out there that decompile and criticize software (freeware and commercial) in software engineering conferences and journals. Why do you think people shouldn't decompile software? Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 1:26
  • Most of the items on this list don't make much sense. Why does it matter legally whether the researcher is going to decompile, criticize, or compete with the app?
    – user1482
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 1:43
  • The idea of not overly/unduly criticising the application is there because of the offence it might cause the authors. It's not the strongest reason I admit and only is worthwhile if what is said becomes libellous. I accept decompiling as a relevant investigative technique, but it must be used carefully, I can see how it could be drawn into ethical issues, depending on how the output of compilation is used i.e. breach copyright. Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 8:13
  • 1
    @AustinHenley decompiling or otherwise reverse engineering is against the EULA of most non-open-source software, so it may be a breach of contract. Which may or may not be enforcable. (IANAL)
    – Flyto
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 9:51
  • 1
    I think from what I've read the application in question is more of just a tool used to perform the study and that all will be ok. Your scoring system I assume is more of a standardisation used to compare players and explain parts of the game, in particular how users interact with the game and thus the interface and levels/problems it defines. Seen as users will be interacting with the game how the original authors envisaged I don't see any EULA issues. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 15:56

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