John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple’s Ouster of AppGratis Is Just the Start of an App Store Crackdown

streetcleanerSimon Dawlat, founder of AppGratis — the app-discovery application removed from the iTunes App Store this week for developer guideline violations — said he’s “in total disbelief” at Apple’s action. And it’s hard to blame him. There’s plenty of confusion over the AppGratis ouster, which seems somewhat capricious, coming as it did just days after Apple’s approval of the iPad version of the app.

Apple said AppGratis was removed from the App Store for violating clauses 2.25 and 5.6 of its App Store Review Guidelines, which forbid apps that promote apps other than a developer’s own, and prohibit developers from using push notifications to deliver marketing messages.* A paid distribution app, AppGratis did both of these things, by promoting apps built by other developers via a once-daily notification. But browse the store’s listings today, and you’ll find that plenty of similar apps remain. And they, too, appear to violate 2.25 and/or 5.6.

Why hasn’t Apple banished them as well?

Well, there’s a very simple answer: It’s going to. And soon.

Sources familiar with Apple’s thinking tell AllThingsD that AppGratis’ ouster was a first step in a broader enforcement action generally targeted at app-discovery apps that run afoul of clauses 2.25 and 5.6.

I’m told that Apple feels that these apps threaten the legitimacy of the App Store charts by providing a way for developers to spend their way to a high ranking. Apple did something similar in 2011, when it rejected a number of applications running incentivized app installs within their apps.

The company also worries that such apps undermine the integrity of the App Store by cluttering it with alternative storefronts. As one source described it to me, some of these discovery apps create a scenario that’s similar to walking into Nordstrom and seeing a Walmart inside.** I’ve also heard that these apps are somehow degrading or complicating Apple’s integration of Chomp, the app search and discovery company it acquired earlier last year. But I haven’t yet been able to confirm that.

So there you have it: Reason and rationale.

Apple’s removal of AppGratis, then, wasn’t some mid-level misstep or a furtive policy change that the company prefers not to explain. It was a straight-ahead compliance action.

If it has been confusing, it’s because Apple, while being quite clear in citing the rules it is enforcing, has been unclear and scattershot in their actual enforcement. In other words, the company’s misstep here was in not attempting a blanket action that would have left little room for confusion.

Evidently, however, that’s coming, though with almost 800,000 apps in the store, some offenders will likely fall through the cracks.

And AppGratis, despite the “far from finished” reassurances of its CEO, is almost certainly finished as an iOS app — in its current incarnation, anyway.

Apple declined further comment on AppGratis’ ouster. AppGratis did not respond to a request for comment.

* If that’s the rule, why is it okay for Facebook to do this? I’m not sure, but there is one obvious explanation.

** Apple could conceivably ban such apps, citing clause 10.2, which forbids apps that look similar to those bundled on the iPhone, including the App Store. But it’s not, and I’ve been unable to determine why.

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