Hit from all sides | Apple officially relaxed its app store rules (slightly)

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Over the past two months, Apple has been forced to acquiesce to court rulings and regulatory agencies over how it runs its App Store, and now it’s formalizing at least some of those changes with a small overhaul of its guidelines. App Store.

The key issue that Apple has come under fire on on at least three different fronts is the rule commonly referred to as “anti-direction“provision in its App Store guidelines – the rather draconian rule Apple has put in place to ban even app developers speaking that there are other ways to purchase in-app subscriptions.

In other words, developers who sell digital products, whether it’s in-game currencies or Netflix subscriptions, can’t allow users of their iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps to sign up for their services. unless they use Apple’s in-app purchase system and give Apple a 30% commission on those listings.

Developers who decide not to give Apple a share of their sales can still be in the App Store, and can still offer alternative purchasing methods, but they are totally prohibited from telling their users that these other methods exist.

This has led to absurd and user-hostile scenarios where users downloading apps like Netflix and Spotify are presented with a welcome screen that allows them to log into an existing account, but does not provide a way to create a new account – or even any information on How? ‘Or’ What to create a new account.

You cannot sign up for Netflix in the app. We know this is a problem. Once a member, you can start watching in the app.

Netflix welcome screen on iPad

Granted, it shouldn’t be too hard for most people to realize that they can sign up for Netflix by visiting the company’s main website – even using Safari on iPad or iPhone – but Apple has still banned Netflix from saying anything. as easy as “Go to our website”.

Sure, that’s fine for big companies like Netflix and Spotify, but it’s fair to say that the process would be considerably more opaque for users who download lesser-known apps.

In addition, Apple’s rules are so restrictive that they only allow certain third-party applications to operate this way – so-called “Reader” applications which essentially include anything that is designed to consume content, which they may use. be it e-books, music or videos.

Apple’s App Store guidelines not only prohibited developers from notifying users of alternative purchasing methods, but also from contacting them about other ways to subscribe using the information collected in the application. In other words, if an iPhone user signs up for a developer’s newsletter in their app, the developer always could in no way inform the customer of offers available outside of Apple’s in-app purchase system.

Basically, when it comes to iPhone, iPad, and Mac users, Apple asked the developers to pretend that no other payment method exists beyond the App Store’s in-app purchase system. .

Hit from all sides

Over the past three months, Apple has had to grapple with rulings from the Japan Fair Trade Commission, settle a class action lawsuit and the results of its high-profile case with Epic Games, all of which have ruled against these provisions in a way. or another.

While all three of these cases clashed with Apple’s rules, the solutions offered have been somewhat different, and so far Apple has only taken the smallest steps possible in its 2019 class action settlement. in which the developers accused Apple of abusing its market power by charging excessively high fees and stifling competition and innovation.

In August, Apple agreed to pay $ 100 million to settle this particular lawsuit, in the form of a small developer aid fund, as well as to “clarify” its policies to explain that iOS developers can effectively contact their customers. customers by e-mail to inform them. alternative payment options.

Naturally, Apple presented this in the most positive light possible, saying it would “provide more flexibility” for smaller developers.

To give developers even more flexibility to reach their customers, Apple also clarifies that developers can use communications, such as email, to share information about payment methods outside of their iOS app.

Apple

Apple last week made these changes official by updating the App Store review guidelines, removing the corresponding section 3.1.3, which previously read:

“Developers cannot use information obtained in the app to target individual users outside the app to use purchasing methods other than in-app purchase (such as sending to an individual user an email about other purchasing methods after that individual has registered for an in-app account). ”

Apple also added a new section, 5.1.1, which allows applications to “request basic contact information” from users, as long as this is optional for the user. In other words, developers cannot Obligate users to provide a name and email address to use the app. Such requests should also comply with other confidentiality provisions of the guidelines, especially those that collect information from children.

“Applications may request basic contact information (such as name and email address) as long as the request is optional for the user, and features and services are not conditioned on providing the information.” and that it complies with all other provisions of these guidelines, including the limitations on collecting information from children.

The settlement agreement also included several other concessions, including more than 400 new prices for subscriptions, in-app purchases and paid apps, as well as greater transparency in the App Review appeals process.

If this sounds like the smallest of baby steps, that’s because it really is. While there is reason to celebrate any move away from hugely restrictive anti-leadership policies, the change so far only allows developers to talk about alternative shopping methods through other communication channels, removing a ” gag order “which should never have existed in the first place.

Meanwhile, however, developers are still not allowed to talk about it in their actual apps – at least not yet. According to Apple, this will happen early next year, following an investigation by the Japanese Fair Trade Commission, but it also looks like it’s still going to be limited to the arbitrary category of “reader” apps. Apple – those that “provide content or content subscriptions for digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music and video.

As for the huge decision in the Epic Games case? That’s the big deal – the one that would signal the end of the anti-leadership provision once and for all – so it’s probably not surprising that Apple doesn’t.

Although it won against Epic Games on all other points and called it a “resounding victory,” Apple still plans to appeal the ruling to at least save time and hopefully get clarification on the exact distance to be covered. comply, because there will likely be quite a bit of debate about a “button” versus an “external link” – something that could mean the difference between just letting developers transfer users to other websites and embedding competing third-party payment systems directly inside their applications.


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