Apple is releasing a new version of its App Store Review Guidelines today, its lengthy document that dictates the rules apps must follow to be published on its App Store. Among the most notable changes being rolled out today, several sections will see Apple take a stronger stance on developer fraud, scams and fouls in the App Store, including a new process that aims to allow other developers to hold bad actors accountable.
One of the major updates on this front involves a change to Apple’s Developer Code of Conduct (Sections 5.6 and 5.6.1 through 5.6.4 of the Review Guidelines).
This section has been significantly expanded to include indications that repeated manipulative or deceptive behavior or any other fraudulent conduct will result in the developer being removed from the Apple Developer Program. This is something Apple has done for repeated violations, he claims, but now wanted to make sure it was clearly spelled out in the guidelines.
In an entirely new third paragraph of this section, Apple states that if a developer engages in activities or actions that are not in accordance with the Developer Code of Conduct, their Apple developer account will be terminated.
It also details what, specifically, needs to be done to restore the account, which includes providing Apple with a written statement detailing the improvements they’ve made, which will need to be approved by Apple. If Apple is able to confirm that the changes have been made, then it can restore the developer’s account.
Apple explained during a press briefing that this change was intended to prevent some sort of capture-and-release scenario in which a developer gets caught by Apple, but then rolls back their changes to continue their bad behavior.
As part of this update, Apple has added a new section on Developer Identity (5.6.2). This is to ensure that developer contact information provided to Apple and customers is accurate and functional, and that the developer does not impersonate other legitimate developers on the App Store. This was a particular issue in a high-profile App Store fraud incident involving a crypto wallet app that scammed a user of their Bitcoin savings (~ $ 600,000). The scam victim was deceived because the app used the same name and icon as another company that made a hardware encryption device, and because the scam app was rated five stars. (Illegitimately, that is.)
In this context, Apple has clarified the language around App Store Discovery fraud (5.6.3) to more specifically call for any type of manipulation of App Store graphics, searches, reviews and references. . The former would mean cracking down on the clearly burgeoning industry of fake app store ratings and reviews, which can send a scam app higher in charts and searches.
Meanwhile, the sponsorship crackdown is reportedly aimed at consumers being shown incorrect prices outside of the App Store in an attempt to increase facilities.
Another section (5.6.4) deals with issues that arise after releasing an app, including negative customer reports and concerns, and excessive refund rates, for example. If Apple notices this behavior, it will investigate the app for the violations, he says.
Of course, the question here is: will Apple actually notice potential crooks? In recent months, a growing number of developers believe that Apple is letting too many crooks slip through the cracks of App Review.
A particular thorn in Apple’s side has been the founder of the Fleksy keyboard app, Kosta Eleftheriou. Dated. This included the crypto scam mentioned above; a children’s game that actually contained a hidden online casino; and a VPN app that scams users for $ 5 million a year, among many others.
Widespread App Store fraud was also brought up during Apple’s antitrust hearing, when Georgian Senator Jon Ossoff asked Apple’s chief compliance officer Kyle Andeer why Apple was unable to locate scams, since they are “trivially easy” to identify.
Apple then played down the concerns and continues to do so through press releases like this one, which noted how the App Store blocked more than $ 1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020.
But a further update to those guidelines appears to be an admission that Apple might need a little help on this front. It says developers can now directly report possible violations they find in other developers’ apps. With a new form that standardizes this type of complaint, developers can report policy violations and any other trust and security issues they discover. Often, developers notice crooks whose apps impact their own business and income, so they will likely turn to this form now as a first step in dealing with the scammer.
Another change will allow developers to appeal a rejection if they believe there has been unfair treatment of any kind, including political bias. Previously, Apple had allowed developers to appeal decisions from the App Store and suggest changes to the guidelines.
Apple told us it has 500 app reviewers spanning 81 languages who see new scenarios daily that need to be factored into updated guidelines and policies. Apple says it is taking what it learns from these individual problems it encounters to invest in its systems, algorithms, and training so that it can avoid similar problems in the future. The company believes the new code of conduct rules, in particular, will give it the tools it needs to better tackle App Store fraud.
The scam rules are just a handful of the many changes implemented with the App Store review guidelines updated today.
There are others, however, that are also worth highlighting:
- Apple has clarified the rules for “hookup” apps to ensure developers understand that pornography and prostitution are not allowed on the App Store – often a problem with hook-up apps, which bait and change user.
- Creator content apps are advised that they must follow rules for user-generated content, where applicable, which means they must have content blocking, reporting, and robust moderation.
- Apple has added the ability for licensed pharmacies and licensed cannabis dispensaries to facilitate purchases, as long as they are legal and geolocated.
- Apps that report criminal activity require developers to work with local law enforcement. (Citizen is a recent example of an app gone awry when users stalked the wrong person. That level of recklessness may be ending.)
- Bait-and-switch marketing and app pricing ads are not allowed.
- Mobile phone applications can now include other types of subscription applications in addition to music and video services.
- Apple clarifies that developers can communicate via email with anyone, but says they cannot target customers acquired through the App Store with messages on how to make purchases outside of the App. Store.
- Apple has enough drinking game apps. Stop sending them.
- Applications that offer account creation must also offer account deletion.
- Further clarity has been added regarding in-app purchases for gift cards, app metadata, bugfix submissions and more. But these were not major changes.