Apple Cracking Down on Developers Spamming the App Store With Duplicate Apps

Just one day after exposing a handful of developers spamming the App Store with duplicate VoIP apps, a clear violation of the App Store Review Guidelines, TechCrunch reports that Apple has removed many of the apps from the App Store.


However, the report notes that plenty of duplicate apps remain available in other categories, such as photo printing. MailPix Inc., for example, has released three different apps that all offer same-day photo printing at nearby CVS or Walgreens locations. All three apps appear to be virtually identical in functionality.

By releasing duplicate apps on the App Store, developers are able to game the search results by using different names, categories, and keywords.


As the report mentions, the primary issue here is that Apple is not consistently enforcing its App Store Review Guidelines, which warn developers that "spamming the store may lead to your removal from the Developer Program." This can lead to an unfair playing field for developers who do abide by the rules.

With millions of apps on the App Store, it is likely that quite a few other duplicate apps have slipped through the cracks, but hopefully the increased awareness results in Apple cracking down more on these rule-breaking developers.


This article, "Apple Cracking Down on Developers Spamming the App Store With Duplicate Apps" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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Apple Changes App Store Rules to Allow Users to Gift In-App Purchases to Friends and Family

Apple today made a tweak to its App Store Review Guidelines, allowing developers to implement a new feature that will let iOS users purchase in-app content as a gift.

Right now, iOS users can purchase paid apps as gifts for other iOS users, but there's no way to purchase in-app content as a gift. As more and more apps work on a free-to-try or subscription basis with various content only available through an in-app purchase, this change to the in-app purchase rules makes sense.

The new in-app purchase gifting rule is outlined in Apple's updated App Store Review Guidelines.

Before the change: "Apps should not directly or indirectly enable gifting of in-app purchase content, features, or consumable items to others."

After the change: "Apps may enable gifting of items that are eligible for in-app purchase to others. Such gifts may only be refunded to the original purchaser and may not be exchanged."

It's not entirely clear how gifting an in-app purchase will be handled, but Apple may be planning to add new in-app purchase gifting options to its App Store interface. Apple may soon send more information about the in-app purchase gifting change to developers.


Right now, to gift a paid app to a person, a user needs to open up the App Store, tap on the three dots icon next to an app's price, and choose the "Gift App..." option. This brings up an interface for sending an App Store credit for a specific app to a contact via email.


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All New and Updated App Store Apps Required to Have a Privacy Policy Starting October

Apple has announced that, starting October 3, 2018, all new apps and app updates will require a privacy policy in order to be submitted for distribution on the App Store or through TestFlight for beta testing purposes.


Apple already requires a privacy policy for apps that access personal information, including apps that offer subscriptions, accept Apple Pay, or use Apple frameworks such as HomeKit, HealthKit, or CareKit. Now, the requirement will extend to all apps, including basic ones that do not share data in any way.

It does not appear that existing apps on the App Store will be affected by this move until they are updated on October 3 or later, so long-outdated apps may remain without a privacy policy if they are no longer maintained.

Apple detailed the upcoming changes in the News section of its App Store Connect portal for developers on Thursday:
Starting October 3, 2018, App Store Connect will require a privacy policy for all new apps and app updates in order to be submitted for distribution on the App Store or through TestFlight external testing. In addition, your app's privacy policy link or text will only be editable when you submit a new version of your app.

To add or edit your privacy policy for the App Store:

1. Go to My Apps in App Store Connect, and click on your app.
2. Under App Store, click on App Information.
3. In the top right corner, add your privacy policy link for iOS apps or macOS apps, or enter text directly for tvOS apps.
4. Click Save.

To add your privacy policy link to your app for external TestFlight distribution:

1. Go to My Apps in App Store Connect, and click on your app.
2. Under TestFlight, click Test Information.
3. Add your privacy policy link for iOS apps, or enter text directly for tvOS apps.
4. Click Save.
Apple elaborates on its privacy policy requirements in its App Store Review Guidelines, under Section 5.1.1:
Privacy Policies: All apps must include a link to their privacy policy in the App Store Connect metadata field and within the app in an easily accessible manner. The privacy policy must clearly and explicitly:

- Identify what data, if any, the app/service collects, how it collects that data, and all uses of that data.

- Confirm that any third party with whom an app shares user data (in compliance with these Guidelines) — such as analytics tools, advertising networks and third party SDKs, as well as any parent, subsidiary or other related entities that will have access to user data — will provide the same or equal protection of user data as stated in the app's privacy policy and required by these Guidelines.

- Explain its data retention/deletion policies and describe how a user can revoke consent and/or request deletion of the user's data.
App Store Connect has long provided a privacy policy metadata field for developers to submit a link to their privacy policy webpage for iOS apps. On the Apple TV, there is no web browser, so App Store Connect has a text box for developers to past the full text of their privacy policy displayed in app.


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Facebook Removing Onavo VPN From App Store After Apple Says It Violates Data Collection Policies

Facebook today removed VPN app Onavo Protect from the iOS App Store after Apple decided that it violates App Store data collection policies, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Apple earlier this month told Facebook officials that the Onavo app, which serves as a virtual private network, violates June App Store rules that prevent apps from harvesting data to build advertising profiles or contact databases.


Earlier this month, Apple officials informed Facebook that the app violated new rules outlined in June designed to limit data collection by app developers, the person familiar with the situation said. Apple informed Facebook that Onavo also violated a part of its developer agreement that prevents apps from using data in ways that go beyond what is directly relevant to the app or to provide advertising, the person added.
Facebook and Apple met last week to discuss the Onavo app, and last Thursday, Apple suggested that Facebook voluntarily remove the Onavo app, which Facebook agreed to do.

Onavo, a free VPN, promised to "keep you and your data safe when you browse and share information on the web," but the app's real purpose was tracking user activity across multiple different apps to learn insights about how Facebook customers use third-party apps.

Whenever a person using Onavo opens up an app or website, traffic is redirected to Facebook's servers, which log the action in a database to allow Facebook to draw conclusions about app usage from aggregated data.

As of earlier this year, Onavo for iOS and Android had been installed on more than 33 million devices, giving Facebook a wealth of user data. Facebook was up front about the data collection in the app's description, but the data that was being collected is now above and beyond what Apple allows.
To provide this layer of protection, Onavo uses a VPN to establish a secure connection to direct all of your network communications through Onavo's servers. As part of this process, Onavo collects your mobile data traffic. This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps and data. Because we're part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences.
It appears that the Onavo app has indeed been removed from the App Store at this time. People who have previously downloaded the app will still be able to use it, but it will no longer be updated. Onavo for Android will continue to be available.

Customers who have installed Onavo but do not want to be tracked by Facebook should uninstall the app from their iOS or Android device.

Update: Apple provided the following statement on the removal of Onavo: We work had to protect user privacy and data security throughout the Apple ecosystem. With the latest update to our guidelines, we made it explicitly clear that apps should not collect information about which other apps are installed on a user's device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing and must make it clear what user data will be collected and how it will be used.


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Apple Revamps App Store Guidelines, Sets New Rules for Remote Mirroring Apps Like Steam Link

Alongside the debut of iOS 12, which is available to developers for beta testing as of today, Apple has introduced new App Store Guidelines.

There are several tweaks that have been made to the App Store Guidelines, and one notable change appears to have been introduced specifically because of the Steam Link debacle that saw Apple approve and then renege on the Steam Link app for iOS.

A new guideline, 4.2.7, says that all Remote Application Mirroring apps, such as Steam Link, must comply with a specific set of rules. Such apps are not allowed to offer a user interface that resembles an App Store view or a store-like interface, nor can they include the ability to purchase software not already owned by the user. Apple is allowing transactions to be made by remote mirroring apps, as long as purchases are made on the host device rather than the iOS device.
The UI appearing on the client does not resemble an iOS or App Store view, does not provide a store-like interface, or include the ability to browse, select, or purchase software not already owned or licensed by the user. For the sake of clarity, transactions taking place within mirrored software do not need to use in-app purchase, provided the transactions are processed on the host device.
With the clarification of Apple's stance on games streamed from a PC or Mac, the Steam Link app may be able to launch on iOS devices after all. Valve has not yet commented on the policy changes, and it's not clear what Valve will need to tweak to comply with the new rules.

There are multiple other changes to the App Store Guidelines. A modified 3.1.1 rule, for example, says that non-subscription apps may offer a free time-based trial period using a free in-app purchase option that temporarily unlocks app functionality. This will allow all apps in the App Store to offer free trials, rather than just subscription apps.

Apps that offer auto-renewing subscriptions, meanwhile, are prohibited from attempting to trick users into purchasing a subscription under false pretenses or engaging in bait-and-switch practices. Such apps will be removed from the App Store.

Apps are no longer allowed to encourage users to disable Wi-Fi, turn off certain security features, and make other modifications to system settings that are unrelated to the core functionality of an app.

All apps (including third-party ads) are now forbidden from running unrelated background processes like cryptocurrency mining.

A new rule, 2.3.12, states that all apps are required to "clearly describe" new features and product changes in their "What's New" text. Apps can continue to use generic descriptions for bug fixes, security updates, and performance improvements, but anything more significant must be listed in the notes.

Apps are also now required to obtain explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording or making a record of user activity, and there's a new rule that says apps can use Unicode characters that render as Apple emojis within apps and app metadata, a change from earlier this year when some apps were rejected for using emojis in their App Store descriptions. Emojis can't be embedded directly into an app binary, however.

There are many other smaller guideline changes concerning content ratings, iCloud documents, data security, cryptocurrency, and more, with the full list of App Store Guidelines available on Apple's website.

Related Roundup: iOS 12

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Developers Report Recent Enforcement of Stricter Rules for Emoji Use in iOS Apps

Over the past few weeks, iOS app developers have been sharing stories on Twitter about their apps getting rejected by Apple's App Review team because emojis were used in "non-keyboard based situations." So if an app displayed an emoji in its user interface, where the user did not type it in with a keyboard, Apple said it was not complying with its trademark and Apple Emoji imagery guidelines.

As accounts of similar situations begin to build, Emojipedia this week reported on the topic, and attempted to make sense of the new rules, with a handful of examples of apps that have been using emoji within their UI and are now being rejected by Apple. In the iOS app "Reaction Match," a Game Center error screen saw the use of the loudly crying face and alien emojis become problems for developer Eddie Lee. He eventually removed all instances of the emojis, and the App Store reviewers then accepted the app.

Image of Reaction Match's rejected (left) and approved (right) app screens via Emojipedia

Github client app GitHawk faced similar issues, with Apple rejecting the app for its use of emojis as "media" in various parts of the app. As developer and software engineer Ryan Nystrom explained, these instances of "non text input" emoji use got flagged, but once he removed the emojis and used them only as "content" and as text input examples, the app was approved.



Like other newly discovered App Store guidelines, there is some inconsistency in Apple's processes and the exact rules remain unclear. For example, a few major apps apparently violate the new emoji-as-text-only rule -- like Snapchat's emoji friend scores -- but appear to not have had issues in recent updates. Other areas of uncertainty include emojis in push notifications and in responses from chatbot apps.

As Emojipedia pointed out, this could affect smaller developers the most and cause their user interfaces to become less personalized.
Smaller developers will be hardest hit as Apple's professionally designed emojis were a quick and easy way to provide imagery in an app that fit in with the system. They will now need to create their own icons to fill the gap, embed a licensed emoji set, or have a naked-looking UI.

Larger developers have the budget to create their own emoji or icon sets, or to license existing ones. The largest or most popular apps may see Apple overlooking breaches of this new policy.
Apple is known to consistently introduce tweaks and updates to its App Store Review Guidelines, occasionally amending harsher rules that create unexpected problems for some apps. For example, last June Apple introduced new guidelines that banned apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service in an effort to fight clones and spam on the App Store. Eventually, the rule negatively affected small businesses who rely on such templates, and Apple amended its guidelines to be less restrictive.

Outside of the traditional emoji characters, Apple launched a new set of advanced emojis with Animoji on the iPhone X. The new feature creates 3D models of existing emojis and tracks their animations to the user's facial features using the iPhone X's TrueDepth front-facing camera, which resulted in the phenomenon of "Animoji Karaoke" videos that Apple itself eventually got in on.

Related Roundup: iOS 11

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Apple Updates App Store Guidelines to Relax Restrictive Rules on Template Apps

Apple in June tweaked its App Store Review guidelines to add a new rule banning apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service, a move that ended up impacting small businesses without the resources to independently develop an app.

Many niche template-created apps for small restaurants, retailers, and other businesses were not allowed under the new rule, which also affected the companies that build those sorts of apps. Following media attention and feedback from small business owners, Apple today amended the rule to make it less restrictive, reports TechCrunch.

An example of a restaurant app created using a ChowNow template

The original rule, in section 4.2.6 of the App Store guidelines, read "Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected." The new wording of the rule, located below, is more expansive and clarifies exactly what's allowed and what's not.
Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected unless they are submitted directly by the provider of the app's content. These services should not submit apps on behalf of their clients and should offer tools that let their clients create customized, innovative apps that provide unique customer experiences. Another acceptable option for template providers is to create a single binary to host all client content in an aggregated or "picker" model, for example as a restaurant finder app with separate customized entries or pages for each client restaurant, or as an event app with separate entries for each client event.
Under the revised guidelines, small businesses that use template-style apps can continue to use them, but those apps must be submitted by the business itself rather than the template provider. Apple also suggests template providers can create something like a restaurant finder app, with the ability to search for all client restaurants rather than creating individual cookie cutter apps for each restaurant.

All apps published on the App Store going forward will need to be handled by the business or organization behind the app, and to make the transition simple, Apple is going to waive its $99 developer fee for government and nonprofit apps in the U.S. in early 2018.

In addition to changing its template app guidelines, Apple today tweaked a few other rules. Apps that offer in-app purchase "loot boxes" or other mechanisms that include randomized virtual items are now required to disclose the odds of receiving each type of item.

Apple has also clarified that virtual currency apps offering Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), cryptocurrency futures trading, and other crypto-securities or quasi-securities trading must come from established banks, securities firms, futures commission merchants, or other approved financial institutions.

One last rule applies to VPN apps. Apps that offer VPN services are required to use the NEVPNManager API and must make it clear what user data is collected and how it is used. VPN apps must also follow local laws, and VPN apps in a territory where a VPN license is required must provide license information in the App Review Notes field when submitting an app.

Apple's full App Store review guidelines are available on its developer website.


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