Can Apple be trusted with the App Store?

In the App Store, Apple is a legislator, judge, jury and executor. Apple makes the rules. You have the final word on what applications you can buy, download and use officially on your iPhone or iPad. And, what is more important, Apple can change its mind at any time and make an application disappear, even to promote Apple applications at the expense of a competitor and even if that competitor is a small company that depends on the App Store for its own existence. [19659002] As the world closely analyzes the power that Silicon Valley handles, that status quo faces new scrutiny. The presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), actually believes that Apple should be divided: "Either run the platform or play in the store," he told The Verge in March. The Supreme Court recently let an antitrust lawsuit against Apple be filed. And a recent scandal, in particular, has raised again the question: Apple moderates the App Store fairly?

Apple is fully aware that it is in the spotlight: this week, the company published a new website entitled "App Store – Principles and Practices" in defense of the management of the company in the store. The App Store offers "equal opportunities for developers", argues Apple, listing all the applications that compete with their own services (including Google Maps, Facebook Messenger and Amazon Music) that are freely available in the App Store. .

But Apple's defense is full of holes. Yes, Apple has its guidelines for the App Store and a review process, but after a decade, it is clear that the company does not apply them consistently or often choose to apply them when it benefits Apple. Even for applications allowed in the store, developers still have to fight an uphill battle against Apple's services. Spotify, as the company's antitrust lawsuit in the EU makes clear, can never be the default music app on an iPhone. In addition, Apple's 30 percent cuts mean that if Spotify sells subscriptions through the App Store, it has to charge more to customers just to cover expenses. Apple's rules also prevent it from even directing customers on the application to their website so they can subscribe without paying those fees to Apple.

The most recent example of these problems is the seemingly agreed Apple application ban that allows parents to monitor and monitor what their children can do on a phone. On April 27, The New York Times reported that Apple, by chance, had begun to ban or restrict "at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded parental control and screen control applications" to the The same time that Apple debuted its version of that idea on iOS 12. "Apple has approved our software for more than five years 37 times," said a representative of OurPact The Verge . "So at this moment what they are doing is applying these restrictions retroactively that have not really been implemented."

According to Apple, the removal of these applications was simply as usual: the company responded to the Times article explaining that those applications had simply broken the rules. Apple updated its App Store policies in 2017 to prohibit consumer-level applications from using an extremely powerful feature, known as mobile device management (MDM), to enable those parental controls. MDM is generally used by IT departments in businesses and schools to manage employee devices, and Apple argued that it would be "incredibly risky … for a private application company, focused on the consumer, to install MDM control about a client's device "due to privacy concerns if a bad actor finds his way into a child's iPhone.

Apple is not completely out of place here. In 2010, a company called EchoMetrix, which offered parental control software for parents to monitor their children's Internet traffic, was surprised to pass that information to the other side of their business: Pulse, the market research arm of the company.

But if Apple is so concerned about the privacy risks of MDM software, why did it offer that feature first, approve these banned applications of parental control before the policy changed in 2017, and still do not eliminate them? even after that change was enacted? As documented by OurPact, one of the applications now banned, Apple approved its applications that use MDM dozens of times over the years, including 10 updates in 2018. "From the first day, the first version of OutPact that we sent to the application The store for review has MDM in it. "We have clarified questions for the application Review team about our use of MDM," says Dustin Dailey, product manager at OurPact.Other applications, such as Kidslox and Qustodio, were also rejected. updates from the summer of 2018 when, again, coincidentally, Apple's Screen Time function was announced for the first time. (The two companies have filed an antitrust complaint against Apple.)

Meanwhile, the developers of these applications have come together to demand an Apple API that allows Offer n those services again in a format approved by Apple, even going so far as to propose real specifications for what that might imply. After all, they argue, if Apple is truly committed to an "ecosystem of innovative and competitive applications," the company should put its money where it is and let these services compete. However, this seems unlikely to work: according to Dailey, Apple told the company that even if they found another approved method to make the application work, the function of blocking applications itself was fundamentally problematic for Apple.

The timing of Apple's application is simply not good for Apple, even if the company insists it is a coincidence, as an Apple spokesperson The New York Times said. (When Verge came to clarify some of these inconsistent policies, Apple declined to comment further.)

Meanwhile, Apple still allows many MDM applications in the App Store, such as the Jamf Now business focused or any number of MDM solutions available academically to manage iOS devices for students. Why does Apple allow employers to leave their customer data vulnerable or that schools put their student data at risk, but do not allow parents to make similar decisions with the devices they have purchased for their children?

The most charitable explanation is that Apple really believes that the use of these APIs is an unacceptable risk to consumers, and that it allows companies and schools to use them simply because there is no other resource or because those larger institutions are better equipped to handle the risk.

But it is an opinion that is strangely restrictive towards this type of application, and does not take into account that almost all the applications and services that we use carry the risk of bad actors. After all, Facebook is allowed to stay in the app store, despite its numerous security breaches that have compromised user data, and Amazon can request your credit card number without concern that Jeff Bezos will steal. So, for Apple, to say that these parental control applications are too big a risk, it feels like an arbitrary line in the sand, and it's not clear why we should trust that large enterprise companies will not steal customer data anymore. that these little ones are now forbidden. .

In the best of cases, the Apple administration here is inconsistent; in the worst case, it is biased in favor of its own services. None of those reasons says anything positive about Apple's ability to run or successfully moderate the App Store fairly. (The former head of approval of the Apple application says he is "really worried" about his behavior). Everything highlights the biggest problems with the walled garden of Apple, which is that one lives or dies at the whim of Apple. Even if you are a developer who has been building an application for years, everything can be eliminated in an instant, simply because Apple changed the rules of the game.

Apple is aware that its leadership in the App Store is under fire, and already seems to be making moves to appear less anti-competitive. Take Valve's Steam Link application, which finally made its surprise debut almost a year after Apple mysteriously blocked it by "commercial conflicts with application guidelines" (although it worked in a similar way to other remote desktop applications based on LAN that I could already download from the store). The approval came days after the Supreme Court ruled that Apple would have to face an antitrust case on monopoly practices in the App Store.

Next week, the company will have its biggest opportunity so far to convince developers that they will treat them fairly. . Monday marks the start of the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where Apple makes its annual presentation to developers about why they should create applications for the Apple platform and where Apple is expected to come with new software and hardware .

For many, the most important feature in iOS 13 might not be a new Dark Mode or an undo gesture. Instead, it will be a promise that Apple will allow you to create a business without fear that some new rule will suddenly collapse.

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