U.S. House Committee Asks Apple to Send Info About App Store Policies and More as Part of Antitrust Investigation

As part of a bipartisan investigation of competition in digital markets, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee today sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook requesting that the company provide any documents and executive communications related to its various policies for the App Store, product repairs, and more.


The investigation seeks any internal documents or communication involving Apple executives, such as emails, for the following topics:
  • Apple's decision to remove from the App Store or to impose any restrictions on certain parental control apps, including Freedom, Kidslox, Mobicip, OurPact, and Qustodio
  • Apple's App Store algorithm for determining rankings in search results
  • Apple's policy related to the App Store's in-app purchase mechanism and its revenue split
  • Apple's policy regarding whether apps are permitted to include in-app links to non-Apple payment systems
  • Apple's policy regarding whether users can set non-Apple apps as default, such as web browsers and music, maps, and email apps
  • Apple's policy regarding whether to allow any third-party app store beyond the App Store on the iPhone
  • Apple's decision to "sherlock" any functionality from third-party apps, including any discussions about Clue, Duet Display, and SwiftKey
  • Apple's policy regarding whether third-party web browsers must use a specific rendering engine, such as WebKit
  • Apple's restrictions on third-party repairs
  • Apple's decision to offer discounted iPhone battery replacements throughout 2018, or the actual or projected effects of this decision, including any effect on iPhone sales
  • Apple's decision to introduce the Independent Repair Provider Program
  • Apple's agreement to sell products on Amazon and corresponding move to limit unauthorized resellers on Amazon
The Committee has requested that Apple respond no later than October 14, 2019 and also sent similar letters to Facebook, Amazon, and Google.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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Apple Announces Billing Grace Period for App Store Subscriptions

Apple today announced a new billing grace period for subscriptions, which will let subscribers who experience unsuccessful auto-renewals continue to use an app's paid content while Apple attempts to collect payment.

This will be a useful feature for developers as customers who do not immediately update their billing when a subscription fee becomes due can currently lose access to premium features right away.


Apple's new option is designed to provide a short period in which customers can still access those premium features while giving them time to fix the billing problem. Grace periods will vary based on subscription length.

Subscriptions that last a week will have a six day grace period, while all longer subscriptions will have a 16 day grace period.

Apple says that there will be no interruption to a subscriber's days of paid service or to a developer's revenue if payment is successful within the new grace period.
You can now enable Billing Grace Period for your apps with auto-renewable subscriptions in App Store Connect. Billing Grace Period allows you to let subscribers whose auto-renewal has failed due to a payment issue continue accessing your app's paid content for a period of time while Apple attempts to collect payment. There won't be any interruption to the subscriber's days of paid service or to your revenue if Apple is able to recover the subscription within the grace period.
Developers who have subscription apps are now able to implement support for the new billing grace period.


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Apple Asks Developers to Submit watchOS Apps to Apple Watch App Store

Apple today asked developers to begin building, testing, and submitting watchOS 6 apps for inclusion in the new standalone Apple Watch App Store.

Starting with watchOS 6, developers are able to distribute apps built solely for the Apple Watch without a companion app on iOS. Apple was not previously accepting standalone Apple Watch submissions and has also updated its watchOS site for developers.


Apple Watch apps can be installed from the Apple Watch App Store directly on the wrist even when an iPhone isn't available.
With watchOS 6, customers around the world can use the new App Store on Apple Watch to easily discover, browse, search, and install apps directly on their wrist. And for the first time, you can distribute an app just for Apple Watch, without a companion app on iOS. Build your watchOS apps using Xcode 11 GM seed, test them on devices running the latest watchOS 6 GM seed, and submit them for review.
Apple says that starting in April 2020, all new watchOS apps and app updates submitted to the App Store will need to be built with the watchOS 6 SDK and support the Apple Watch Series 4 or later.

watchOS 6 with standalone App Store is set to launch on the Series 3 and Series 4 Apple Watch models on Thursday, September 19. It will be available for Series 1 and Series 2 Apple Watch models later in the year.

The Apple Watch Series 5, which launches on Friday, September 20, will come with watchOS 6 installed.


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Apple Requiring New Apps and App Updates to Be Built With iOS 13 SDK Starting in April 2020

Apple today reminded iOS developers to update their apps for iOS 13, using the new Xcode 11 golden master that was released earlier today.

According to Apple, all new apps and app updates will need to be built with the iOS 13 SDK and support the all-screen design of the iPhone XS Max or later by April 2020.

With iOS 13, your app can take advantage of Dark Mode, a dramatic new look for iPhone, Sign in with Apple, the fast, easy way to sign in to apps, and the latest advances in ARKit 3, Core ML 3, and Siri. Build your apps using Xcode 11 GM seed, test them on iOS devices running the latest GM seeds, and submit them for review.

Starting April 2020, all new apps and app updates will need to be built with the iOS 13 SDK and support the all-screen design of iPhone XS Max or later.
Apple plans to release iOS 13 to the public on Thursday, September 19, one day before the new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max models become available for purchase.


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Apple Adjusts App Store Algorithm After Realizing Many Apple Apps Dominate Search Results

Apple recently adjusted its App Store search algorithm so that fewer of its own apps appear at the top of search results, senior executives Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue confirmed in an interview with The New York Times.


Specifically, the executives said Apple has tweaked a feature that sometimes grouped apps by maker so Apple apps would no longer look as if they were receiving preferential treatment. The New York Times claims that many Apple apps have dropped in the search results since the change was implemented in July.

Schiller and Cue both denied any wrongdoing on Apple's part, however, describing the change as an improvement rather than a fix:
On July 12, many Apple apps dropped sharply in the rankings of popular searches. The top results for "TV" went from four Apple apps to two. "Video" and "maps" changed from three top Apple apps to one. And Apple Wallet dropped from the No. 1 spot for "money" and "credit."

Mr. Schiller and Mr. Cue said the algorithm had been working properly. They simply decided to handicap themselves to help other developers.

"We make mistakes all the time," Mr. Cue said.

"We're happy to admit when we do," Mr. Schiller said. "This wasn't a mistake."
Even after the change, analytics firm Sensor Tower found Apple apps ranked first in the App Store for over 700 search terms, even when the Apple apps were less relevant and less popular than ones from its competitors:
On Aug. 21, Apple apps ranked first in 735 of roughly 60,000 search terms tracked by Sensor Tower. Most of the tracked searches were obscure, but Apple’s apps ranked first for many of the popular queries. For instance, for most of June and July, Apple apps were the top result for these search terms: books, music, news, magazines, podcasts, video, TV, movies, sports, card, gift, money, credit, debit, fitness, people, friends, time, notes, docs, files, cloud, storage, message, home, store, mail, maps, traffic, stocks and weather.
A spokesperson for Apple said the company could not verify the data because it did not keep a record of historical search results, according to The New York Times. Apple's algorithm is said to examine 42 different signals, including an app's relevance to a given search, its ratings, and its popularity based on downloads and views.

The New York Times shared a particularly compelling example related to Apple's Wallet app following the Apple Card's introduction, but Schiller and Cue denied any intentional manipulation of the App Store search results:
On March 25, the company unveiled an Apple-branded credit card that can be used via the Apple Wallet app. The next day, Apple Wallet was the No. 1 result in searches for "money," "credit" and "debit." The app had not ranked for those search terms before then.

Mr. Cue and other Apple executives speculated that the team marketing the Apple Wallet app had added "money," "credit" and "debit" to the underlying description of the app, causing it to appear for those search results.

Then people searched those terms, found the Apple Wallet app and clicked on it, telling the algorithm that it should be the first result.

"We can just tell you that we've not done anything to drive that — that is, other than launching a great wallet, an Apple Card and marketing the heck out of it," Mr. Schiller said.
Apple has faced increasing scrutiny as of late over the way it runs its App Store, ranging from Spotify's anticompetitive complaint in Europe to a class action lawsuit accusing Apple of operating an App Store monopoly in the United States, which the Supreme Court has allowed to proceed.

Apple recently defended its practices, noting that the App Store "welcomes competition" and was created to be "a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps" and "a great business opportunity for all developers."


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iOS App ‘UVLens’ Apparently Hacked, Sends Out Very Inappropriate Notifications

An iOS App Store weather app called "UVLens" this morning sent out highly inappropriate pornographic notifications to all of its users, suggesting the app may have been hacked or otherwise compromised in some way.

There are dozens of complaints from users on Twitter who received the notification, which was in no way weather related and was explicit enough to shock users who received it.


UVLens is a simple app designed to provide hourly UV forecasts for those who are concerned about their sun exposure. It is a general use app and it's quite possible that it could have been downloaded by children given its 4+ age rating.

UVLens appears to have sent out the notification to all of its users given the volume of tweets, and one person said that when she tapped the incoming notification, it tried to open a secondary window.

MacRumors was alerted to the issue by editor Mitchel Broussard, who has been using the app for more than a year. Prior to today, the app worked well and sent out no inappropriate content to users. We've never before seen reports of an app sending out notifications like this, so it's rather unusual.

Apple does not appear to have a solid reporting system in place for instances like this, as we discovered after the notifications went out. UVLens has not yet commented on the situation.

There's a "Report a Problem" website for reporting issues with recently purchased iOS apps, but it does not work with older purchased apps that suddenly go rogue. There's no report button in the App Store for individual apps, no option when 3D Touching an app on the Home screen, and no clear support path for alerting Apple about problematic apps.

We have contacted the UVLens developer, and multiple people have been sending complaints on Twitter, so the app may be removed from the App Store or fixed in the near future.

For now, customers who have installed UVLens will likely want to delete the app because it's not clear what's going on and if there has been a breach of some sort.

Update: UVLens sent out another notification, apologizing for the explicit push notification. The company says that it was not from the UVLens team and is being investigated.




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Apple Delaying Plans to Limit Third-Party Tracking in Kids Apps

Apple is delaying its plans to limit third-party tracking and ads in apps designed for children, reports The Washington Post.

The company’s decision comes following an inquiry from The Washington Post about app developers who are unhappy with the changes and what it means for the way free apps for children function.



Earlier this year, there were reports suggesting Apple would limit third-party ad tracking in apps aimed at kids to better protect their privacy, and Apple formally announced changes in June. Apple initially planned to roll out these changes in September, but is now holding off to give developers more time to adjust to the new rules.

Following an inquiry from The Washington Post, Apple said Friday that it now plans to delay the rule changes. “We aren’t backing off on this important issue, but we are working to help developers get there,” Apple spokesman Fred Sainz wrote in an emailed statement. The statement said some developers had asked Apple to clarify the new rules, but that “generally we have heard from them that there is widespread support for what we are trying to do to protect kids.”

Apple’s new App Store guidelines prevent apps for kids from using third-party analytics services, which can collect a lot of data about usage habits. Apple is also “severely curtailing” ad sales in kids apps.

In order to help keep kids’ data private, apps in the kids category and apps intended for kids cannot include third-party advertising or analytics software and may not transmit data to third parties. This guideline is now enforced for new apps. Existing apps must follow this guideline by September 3, 2019.

Gerald Youngblood, the developer behind the Tankee video gaming app for kids, told The Washington Post that Apple’s new rules could limit Tankee’s ability to show ads, thus impacting his decision to make the app free.

Tankee shouldn’t be lumped in with the apps that are negligent and fail to protect children, Youngblood said. “We thought they were going to shut down these apps that are ignoring privacy and targeting kids,” he said. “We were built with privacy as a foundation.”

Several other app developers and creators echoed concerns about the changes, including Dylan Collins, the chief executive of SuperAwesome, a company designed to help developers navigate child-privacy laws. “This will simply kill the kids app category,” he told The Washington Post.

Apple has not said how many children’s apps collect personally identifiable information on children, making it unclear how widespread the issue is. Rather than blanket banning all tracking and cutting down on ads, developers want Apple to mandate that all kids apps use advertising and analytics vetted for safety.

Developers also take issue with the fact that the new rules don’t prevent developers themselves from collecting data or showing ads, it simply limits third-party options. Developers say that Apple’s new restrictions will simply incentivize them to start developing apps technically made for adults, even if the users end up being children.

Apple’s Phil Schiller told The Washington Post that Apple initially tried contacting developers and advertising software operators to ask them to remove inappropriate ads, but that approach ultimately failed. Schiller went on to say that Apple spoke to some developer ahead of implementing the new rules. “We gathered enough data that we’re doing the right thing,” said Schiller.

It’s not clear how and when Apple will ultimately implement the app changes that it outlined in June, and it’s not known if the company plans to make alterations before rolling out new guidelines.

The Washington Post‘s full article has more detail on how the changes could impact apps designed for kids and it’s well worth checking out if you’re a developer or a parent.

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Apple Says Simulated Gambling Apps Will Be Rated 17+ in All Countries Starting Today

In an email to developers today, received by MacRumors, Apple has announced that apps marked as having "Frequent/Intense Simulated Gambling" will be rated 17+ in all countries and regions starting today.


Gambling apps meeting certain related criteria will also be newly available to users in South Korea, but only to users 19 years of age or older.

Apple's full email:
Dear Developer,

In an effort to open up additional opportunities for developers, we've worked with the government of the Republic of Korea on making more apps available on the App Store in the Republic of Korea. And to ensure that our global age rating system continues to help make the App Store safe for kids, apps that feature Frequent/Intense Simulated Gambling will be rated 17+ in all countries and regions starting August 20, 2019.

If your app meets at least one of the criteria below, you'll be able to offer it on the App Store in the Republic of Korea to users 19 years of age or older. You'll need to enter a Rating Classification Number from the Game Rating and Administration Committee in App Store Connect, and can do so starting August 20. Apps with a number entered at this time will be published later this week. If you don't have a Rating Classification Number, you can apply for one now.

- Apps in the Casino subcategory with age rating 17+
- Apps in the Games or Entertainment categories with Frequent/Intense selected for at least one of the following content descriptions:

-- Simulated Gambling
-- Sexual Content or Nudity
-- Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or Reference
-- Realistic Violence


To enter your Rating Classification Number:

1. Sign in to App Store Connect.
2. In the App Information section under Availability in the Republic of Korea, enter your Rating Classification Number.
3. Submit your app for review.
See section 5.3 of Apple's App Store Review Guidelines for other restrictions on gambling apps.


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App Developers Claim Apple’s iOS 13 Location Tracking Changes Are Anti-Competitive

Apple in iOS 13 made changes to the way location tracking permissions work, and there's no longer an option for apps to ask to "Always Allow" location tracking.

Instead, Apple allows users to select "Allow While Using the App," "Allow Once," or "Don't Allow," which some app creators have taken offense to. The leaders of seven companies that make apps for iOS devices banded together to write an email to Apple CEO Tim Cook to speak out about the changes, with the details shared by The Information.

There's no longer an "Always Allow" option on privacy popups in iOS 13 for enabling permanent location access

The companies that wrote to Cook are upset that there's no longer a readily available "Always Allow" option. Users can still turn on "Always Allow" in the Privacy section of the Settings app, but it's not available by default and requires additional steps.

As an example, Zenly, a location tracking app owned by Snap, needs to have location tracking on permanently to function. Since there's no option to turn on "Always Allow," Zenly has to have a clunky secondary display screen that instructs users to open up the Privacy settings on their iPhones to change the location setting. This makes consumers more aware of apps that are tracking them continually, but it is an extra step that app developers must contend with.

Apps that want continual location data must instruct customers to enable it in the Settings app

According to the companies who wrote to Cook, the changes could potentially lead users to think their apps are broken unless they're "savvy enough" tweak Privacy settings. These are the companies whose leaders wrote to Cook about the privacy changes:

  • Tile - Makes tracking devices for wallets, keys, and other objects.

  • Arity - A company owned by Allstate that developers technology for measuring driver risk.

  • Life360 - An app for sharing location with family and friends.

  • Zenly - A location sharing app owned by Snap.

  • Zendrive - A company that makes driver assessment apps.

  • Twenty - A social networking app for finding friends nearby.

  • Happn - A dating app.


The app creators suggested Apple create a two-step process that would let users grant apps access to locations as a solution, but it's not clear if Apple has plans to implement changes.

The companies were also concerned about changes Apple is making to a VoIP feature designed to let apps run in the background to listen for calls, but that was being abused for other tracking purposes. Apple doesn't plan to let developers use Apple's PushKit API for anything beyond voice calls in iOS 13.

While the companies admit that apps used this feature for tracking user location and for gathering data, they claim the change will hurt important app features. As an example, Life360 reportedly uses the feature to access a user's location to dispatch emergency services when a customer is involved in a car accident.

The email ends by pointing out that Apple's own apps do not need to get user permission to access user location, such as for Find My, which is built into the iPhone as a way to keep track of iOS and macOS devices.
"Like you, we are committed to ensuring that privacy is a top priority, but are concerned that the current implementation will create user confusion that actually undermines this goal," the e-mail to Cook reads. "The changes also have the added effect of removing critical geolocation functionality while simultaneously not applying to Apple's own apps, some of which compete with the products we develop."
In response to questions about the email, an Apple spokesperson told The Information that Apple's goal is to make the App Store a safe, trusted source for apps and to give its users the best products and ecosystem in the world.
We take responsibility for ensuring that apps are held to a high standard for privacy, security and content because nothing is more important than maintaining the trust of our users. Users trust Apple--and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution. Any changes we make to hardware, software or system level apps is in service to the user, their privacy and providing them the best products and ecosystem in the world.
In addition, Apple said that it is working with some of the companies that signed the email to find alternative methods for features that are being obsoleted, such as background tracking for purposes other than voice calls.

Apple also says that while system apps like Find My don't need to make location tracking requests from users, some Apple apps distributed through the App Store will abide by Apple's processes for requesting user permission to access location information. The full report with additional details can be read over at The Information.


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App Store ‘Today’ Stories Now Fully Available on the Web

Apple redesigned its App Store app in iOS 11, introducing a new "Today" tab with editorials about featured apps and developers, tips and how tos, and more to help customers discover new and useful apps.

As noted by 9to5Mac, Apple recently extended these Today stories to the web, making the content fully accessible on the desktop.


The new two-column layout features a title card on the left and content on the right, ranging from text and images to app lists and links. Previously, the web previews simply directed users to the App Store on an iOS device.

Today stories can be read on the web by opening a story from an iOS device, scrolling down to the bottom, and tapping "share story."


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