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Can you trust Apple 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, more importantly, 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 it is a small company that depends on the App Store for its own existence.

As the world closely badyzes the power that Silicon Valley handles, that status quo faces new scrutiny. Senator presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) actually believes that Apple should split: "Either run the platform or play in the store," he said. The edge in March. The Supreme Court recently launched an antitrust lawsuit against Apple. 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" to defend the company's management in the store. The App Store offers "equal opportunities for developers," Apple argues, insofar as it lists all applications that compete with its own services (including Google Maps, Facebook Messenger and Amazon Music) that are available for free 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 even when it benefits Apple. Even for applications allowed in the store, developers still have to fight against Apple's own 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 indicate that if Spotify sells subscriptions through the App Store, it has to charge customers more to cover expenses. Apple's rules also prevent you from directing application customers to your website so they can subscribe without paying those fees to Apple.

The most recent example of these problems is Apple's seemingly convenient application time that allows parents to monitor and monitor their children on a phone. On April 27, The New York Times He reported that, by chance, Apple had begun to prohibit or restrict "at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded parental control and screen applications" at the same time that Apple introduced its own version of that idea in iOS 12. "Apple approved our software For more than five years 37 times, "Representative of OurPact Customs The edge. "So right now what they're doing is applying retroactively these restrictions that have really been implemented."

According to Apple, the elimination of these applications was simply as usual: the company responded to the times The applications had simply broken the rules. Apple updated its App Store policies in 2017 to prohibit consumer-level applications of 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 consumer-focused private application to install MDM control over the device. a customer "due to privacy concerns if a bad actor finds his way on a child's iphone.

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

But if Apple is concerned about the privacy risks of MDM software, why did it first offer to approve these banned parental control applications for years before the policy changed in 2017, and still not eliminate them? après Was that change enacted? As documented by OurPact, one of the applications now banned, Apple approved its applications using MDM dozens of times over the years, including 10 updates in 2018. "From the first day, the first version of OutPact that we presented to the application The review store 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, also saw their updates as of the summer of 2018 when, once 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 joined the demand and the Apple API that would allow them to offer these services again in an Apple approved format, even coming up with real specifications for what that entails. 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 only a good look for Apple, even if the company insists it's a coincidence, and an Apple spokesperson duty The New York Times. (When The edge was extended 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 Jamf focused on the business 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 schools to put their student data at risk?

The most charitable explanation is that Apple really believes that using 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 larger institutions are better equipped to handle risk. .

But it is a view that restricts this type of applications, and does not take into account that almost all the applications that we use carry the risk of bad actors. After all, Facebook can stay in the app store, despite its many security breaches that have compromised user data, and Amazon can request your credit card number without the worry that Jeff Bezos will steal it. So for Apple to say that these parental control applications are a big risk, it feels like an arbitrary line in the arena, and it's not clear why we should trust that large enterprise companies will not steal customer data more than these small now prohibited. .

At best, Apple's management here is inconsistent; in the worst case, it is biased in favor of its own services. None of these reasons says anything positive about Apple's ability to run or successfully moderate the App Store fairly. (The head of approval of the application forms Apple says he is really concerned about their behavior). All the highlights with the walled garden of Apple, which is that you live or at Apple's whim. Even if you are a developer who has been building an application for years, everything can come out of you in an instant, simply because Apple changed the rules of the game.

Apple is aware that its leadership in the App Store is less than four years, and it seems that it is already taking measures to appear less anti-competitive. The Steam Link application of Take Valve, which finally made its surprise debut almost all year after Apple mysteriously blocked it by "commercial conflicts with the application guidelines" (although it worked in a similar way to other desktop applications LAN-based remote that I could already download from the store). The approval came days after the Supreme Court ruled that Apple would face an antitrust case related to monopolistic practices in the App Store.

Next week, the company will have the greatest opportunity so far to find developers who 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 of being knocked down suddenly by some new rule.

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