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Posts tagged with "App Review"

Reddit App Takedowns Expose Serious App Review Flaws

[Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Ongoing Development, a column by John Voorhees published 2-3 times a month in MacStories Weekly, the email newsletter sent to Club MacStories members. This installment first appeared in MacStories Weekly #28 and is being published here at the request of Club members.

Ongoing Development focuses on issues facing app developers and others in creative fields that rely on the web to reach an audience. Previous installments have covered topics like app marketing strategies and making the time to tackle new projects.

You can access past issues of MacStories Weekly, including Ongoing Development, and enjoy other perks by becoming a Club MacStories member.]


Something has been bothering me since last week that I can’t shake - the Reddit debacle that unfolded last Monday night. That evening, Apple pulled several third party Reddit clients for violating App Review rule 18.2 which says that:

Apps that contain user generated content that is frequently pornographic (e.g. “Chat Roulette” Apps) will be rejected.

Sounds awful right? It turns out that what Apple didn’t like was that these apps had a NSFW switch in their settings that allowed you to block (or show) NSFW content. Narwhal’s developer who spoke to Gizmodo said:

Today, we received notice that our new update with a lot of great new features was rejected under the App Store rule 18.2: “Your app contains a mechanism to enable or disable Not Safe For Work (NSFW) content, including pornographic content. Apps with sexually explicit content are not appropriate for the App Store.” About 15 minutes afterwards, we received notice that the current version of our app has been removed from the app store.

You can argue with the policy choice Apple made and rightly point out that every browser violates Rule 18.2 if Reddit clients do, but it’s that last bit of the quote above that’s been bothering me. The part where Apple decided that a feature that was in some of these apps for over a year violated rule 18.2 and then immediately pulled them off the App Store. These weren’t new apps pushing boundaries, these were existing approved apps. The only thing that changed was Apple’s interpretation of its own rule.

Federico wasn’t joking when he tweeted that he feels like he’s writing an App Review story every week. This particular story came and went quickly, in part because the developers affected scrambled to update their apps and Apple expedited review. But the implications of the shoot first, ask questions later approach to App Review bear further examination because they has lasting negative effects on the developer community and, ultimately, Apple and its customers.

This sort of out-of-the-blue, unilateral action legitimately strikes fear into the hearts of developers. Consider these responses to Federico’s tweet from Bryan Irace and Matt Bischoff, both formerly of Tumblr:

This is no exaggeration. I don’t know a developer who hasn’t had a run-in with App Review and wondered, ‘Maybe this is it. This is where my my app dies.’ That may sound a little dramatic, but read the results of Graham Spencer’s poll of developers - the feeling is real.

I can imagine that some at Apple may roll their eyes at this as an overreaction, or be a little offended at the implied lack of trust, but step into developers’ shoes. In the absence of meaningful communication by Apple of its intentions, it’s stories like the Reddit client take-downs that shape developers’ behavior. And as Federico noted, it’s not like this is an isolated story, it’s one of a long string of similar stories that make developers jumpy.

What bothers me the most about this incident is how Apple implemented its policy change. There was no imminent threat or emergency that made Reddit clients any more a threat than they were twelve months prior, but nonetheless Apple summarily pulled them and offered to reconsider the apps if the developers resubmitted. The developers worked through the night, resubmitted their apps and many were back on the App Store by the next morning. As a result, the story barely got traction and, while Apple may have avoided an onslaught of bad press, the damage was done. Developers took note.

So what to do? Probably the other reason this episode bothers me as much as it does is that it seems like the solution is obvious. I will grant that it’s easy for me to say that sitting here blissfully ignorant of many of the issues Apple faces, but just because it may be a hard problem to solve isn’t an excuse not to try. Apple needs to define when apps can and should be pulled from the App Store without advance warning and make that clear to developers. Those circumstances no doubt exist, such as where there is an immediate threat to customers or their data, but in circumstances like this, where a feature has been in apps for over a year, developers should be given advance notice of any policy change and a fair period of time to make adjustments before an app is pulled from the Store.

I also think that it’s time for Apple to appoint an internal advocacy group for third party developers. A group that takes developers’ calls, attends conferences, and is a voice for developers when policy choices like this are made.

The distrust caused by events like this is the sort of thing that is not easily fixed and will erode developer support for iOS in the long term if it’s not addressed. That’s not good for Apple or its customers. It’s hard enough to build a sustainable business on the App Store. Making app take-down stories a thing of the past would go a long way toward eliminating some of the negative sentiment we saw in the MacStories developer poll.


Apple Pulls Third-Party Reddit Clients for NSFW Content

Update (4am PDT 12 April 2016): Some of the third-party Reddit clients have now returned to the App Store. Both Narwhal and Antenna are now available in the App Store, but both have been updated to remove the NSFW toggle that used to be in their apps. It is our understanding that Apple’s objection is with the implementation of those NSFW toggles. Apple wants them removed from all Reddit apps so that if a user does want to view NSFW content, that toggle must be manually changed from the Reddit website.

Today, numerous third-party Reddit clients were removed from the App Store by Apple for breaching clause 18.2 of the App Review Guidelines. This clause states that apps will be rejected if they contain “user generated content that is frequently pornographic”.

The official Reddit app, which launched last week and was featured by Apple on the App Store, currently remains in the App Store, but other Reddit clients including Narwhal, Antenna, Eggplant and BaconReader have all been removed for sale. These third-party Reddit clients were removed from Apple without any advance notice to developers, despite some of the apps being available on the App Store for well over a year. It should also be noted that many of these third-party apps, such as Narwhal, did have a filter to enable or disable NSFW content.

It is our understanding that Reddit did not ask Apple to remove the third-party Reddit apps. This aligns with Reddit’s statement from last week (after the launch of the official Reddit app) in which Reddit’s VP of Consumer Product stated “if you already have an app you like, you’re free to continue enjoying it”.

Rick Harrison, co-author of the Narwhal Reddit client provided this quote to MacStories:

It also seems that a few other popular third-party Reddit apps were removed from the store, but not the official Reddit app. I reached out to Reddit asking them if they knew anything, and they informed me that they did not request Apple to pull these apps, and they were also receiving issues from Apple about 18.2. I think that Apple did not pull their app because they are a big company and were recently featured. As shown time and time again, Apple does not really care whatsoever about indie developers. From taking 30% of barely any revenue to rejecting apps based on features that have been available for 18+ months.

It is too soon to say, but Apple’s actions today may well be the latest example of policy and procedural failure on App Review. We covered this topic in detail in a story last month which chronicled the depth of developer frustration at App Review.

We will continue to monitor this story and provide further updates and details as we come across them.


Developers: Apple’s App Review Needs Big Improvements

Since the App Store launched in 2008, every app and every app update has gone through a process of App Review. Run by a team within Apple, their objective is to keep the App Store free from apps that are malicious, broken, dangerous, offensive or infringe upon any of Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines. For developers who want to have their app on the iOS, Mac, or tvOS App Store, App Review is an unavoidable necessity that they deal with regularly. But in the public, little is heard about App Review, except for a few occasions in which App Review has made a high-profile or controversial app rejection (such as the iOS 8 widgets saga) or when App Review has mistakenly approved an app that should never have been approved (such as the app requiring players to kill Aboriginal Australians).

Earlier this year we set out to get a better understanding of what developers think about App Review. We wanted to hear about their positive and negative experiences with App Review, and find out how App Review could be improved. It is hard to ignore from the results we got, from a survey of 172 developers,1 that beneath the surface there is a simmering frustration relating to numerous aspects of App Review. There is no question that App Review still mostly works and very few want to get rid of it, but developers are facing a process that can be slow (sometimes excruciatingly so), inconsistent, marred by incompetence, and opaque with poor communication. What fuels the frustration is that after months of hard work developing an app, App Review is the final hurdle that developers must overcome, and yet App Review can often cause big delays or kill an app before it ever even sees the light of day.

Developer frustration at App Review might seem inconsequential, or inside-baseball, but the reality is that it does have wider implications. The app economy has blossomed into a massive industry, with Apple itself boasting that it has paid developers nearly $40 billion since 2008 and is responsible (directly and indirectly) for employing 4 million people in the iOS app economy across the US, Europe and China. As a result, what might have been a small problem with App Review 5 years ago is a much bigger problem today, and will be a much, much bigger problem in another 5 years time.

App Review is not in a critical condition, but there is a very real possibility that today’s problems with App Review are, to some degree, silently stiffling app innovation and harming the quality of apps on the App Store. It would be naïve of Apple to ignore the significant and numerous concerns that developers have about the process.

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