Illustration by Eric Gagnier

Report: Big Data Getting Bigger Thanks to Mobile Apps

Says Washington will need to provide regulatory clarity to keep app engine humming

The mobile app "ecosystem" is valued at $143 billion, according to the latest annual report from ACT: The App Association, which was released Thursday, and will need help from Washington to continue to grow.

That comes as the FCC is freeing up spectrum for mobile broadband and looking to grease the skids for the ramp-up to 5G.

According to the State of the App Economy report, Silicon Valley has been spread across the map, with 83% of app companies located outside that iconic enclave.

Other top-line takeaways include 1) the number of "connected" devices—at 350 million—now outnumber the U.S. population; there were 90 billion app downloads in 2016; direct revenues were $51 billion in 2016; the app economy added 110,000 software application developer jobs between May 2014 and May 2016.

The report concludes that to keep the app economy strong, Congress and regulatory agencies like the FCC need to ensure "clear rules of the road," including "clarity" about how law enforcement can access data but suggests that industry best practices around privacy and security are the way to go.

The report suggests how important those best practices will be given the "big data" those apps and devices are collecting. "[T]he way we engage in enterprise, shopping, health, dating, business, manufacturing, and finance activities will not just be built around machine learning, but the apps you use to interface with the cloud will be sending back key data in real-time," it says, adding: "Look for developers to improve software and use the sensors on your phone and wearables in new ways (you think your camera can only take photos? Think again!). All of the data will flow back to the cloud to power AI [artificial intelligence]."

The FCC under chairman Ajit Pai is looking to return oversight of broadband privacy to the Federal Trade Commission, whose approach is based on enforcing such voluntary best practices.

The report also puts in a plug for paving the way to 5G, saying that without it, "we cannot deliver the promise the next wave of technology holds for all Americans."