Apple’s control over app hosting

High-profile app rejections aren’t as common as they once were, so it’s even more shocking when an entire developer account is banned from the App Store. Dash from Kapeli ran into this after trying to migrate an account:

Today I called them and they confirmed my account migration went through and that everything is okay as far as they can tell. A few hours ago I received a “Notice of Termination” email, saying that my account was terminated due to fraudulent conduct.

Brent Simmons writes about the lack of transparency and minimal appeal process:

While this is legal, and within Apple’s rights, it’s not what we’ve come to expect from a moral judicial system. No matter what the context, we expect that the accused see the evidence against them, we expect avenues for appeal to be made available, and we expect proportional penalties.

I hope this misunderstanding with Dash will be cleared up soon. But issues like this will never completely go away until Apple separates app distribution from curation. As long as there is a centralized, tightly-controlled system for installing iOS apps, mistakes will happen.

Imagine instead if the App Store worked more like the web. Google dominates search, but they can’t shut down your web site. If you try to game the system, Google can remove you from search and limit your exposure. Likewise, developers should be able to distribute iOS apps with minimal involvement from Apple, yet apps that haven’t passed formal review won’t be searchable without a direct link, won’t ever be featured, and won’t show up in the top 100 lists.

A more open system for app distribution would cleanly solve several problems with the App Store. Apple would be more free to remove clutter from search results without necessarily purging apps from the store. And there would be a natural temporary consequence for suspected fraudulent behavior: simply demote the app, delisting it from search and featured collections.

Apple should focus on highlighting the best apps within a system that lets the app review team make occasional mistakes. There shouldn’t be such an easy toggle that wipes out an indie developer’s business.