Apple Cracks Down on App Monetization Tools… Again.


While the media, tech pundit and developer communities continue to be a-flurry with discussion of the vast amounts of exciting news that came out of last week’s WWDC in San Francisco, some app developers have begun to report their apps

have been rejected from iTunes and the iOS App Store because of violations of the infamous TOS sections 2.25 and 3.10.

The sections in case are the following:

2.25: Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected, unless designed for a specific approved need (e.g. health management, aviation, accessibility, etc.) or to provide significant added value for a targeted group of customers.

3.10: Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program.

Infamous because this is not first time Apple has arbitrarily enforced these two specific regulations. (And, as always, the draconian, arbitrary enforcement is becoming quite controversial in the app developer community.)

The first time this specific crackdown happened was in October, 2012 - then again in May, 2013. In 2012, developers spotted the change in the iOS 6 App Store Review Guidelines prior to the banhammer coming down: Supposedly the rule change/enforcement was aimed at preventing companies like AppOfTheDay and AppShopper from gaming the system. Apple’s concern was that apps from those companies were unfairly influencing app ranking and evidently provided an offsite user experience similar to the iOS App Store. Apple protected its original App Store user experience by enforcing the controversial TOS sections. Roughly half year later, Apple started cracking down on third-party tools that allow users to recommend apps to their friends -- plus releases equipped with an app search facility are now prohibited.

Fast forward to June, 2014 Apple takes another step on the same path: Let’s take a closer look at what and who is under fire this time.

Incentivized Video View

Rewarding app users for watching video ads from third party apps is one of the most popular marketing techniques out there. This is because video ads -as marketing medium- have been proven to be a really effective. Video ads are efficient across the board - on Facebook, Google AdWords, on many other mobile ad networks. The practice of rewarding app user for an action within the app with a bonus (lives, gold, extended use time) is really old technique and has been incorporated into so many iOS games that to penalize all of them would leave the iOS App Store pretty much bereft of content. The issue Apple has a hard time with accepting is the action as a bribe: Apps most often ask users to watch a video ad of a third party app inside their own product. Apple doesn’t want this kind of advertising to take place in the first place, hence the crackdown and rejection of new apps that incorporate this marketing technique. The “logic” they are using to justify this, is that Apple wants to preserve the highest quality standard for iOS apps, if it allows this type of in-app advertising, it becomes impossible to block developers with poor quality apps, but deep pockets from gaming rankings and pushing their crappy apps up the TOP charts.

Rewarded Social Sharing

Apple also takes umbrage with rewarding social sharing. If you’re unfamiliar, this is when app user gets a reward in-app for sharing a status update about the app (99% of the time it’s a game) via his Twitter, Facebook or other social media accounts. Typically, if user really likes an app, they do not need an incentive, as they will share the app via social media naturally. App developers complain:

“So we can’t encourage users to share stuffs [sic] on social networks anymore? This is one of the oldest tricks in the book and even Candy Crush uses it.”

Well...we don’t think that Apple would object to Candy Crush encouraging its users to share the game via social media, but certainly will when it comes to a Candy Crush “wannabe” app. It is about an endless battle on Apple’s part to control the information shared about apps with the public, in an effort to only publicize the “best” apps.

Unfortunately, the “best” apps are subjective and many people feel that Apple shouldn’t be the arbiter of taste and that all apps - large and small - should be able to publicize their products and let the user decide the quality. And, as app discoverability is HORRENDOUS in the iOS App Store, the only way that smaller products get a fair shake at getting in front of the eyes of their target demographic, is to employ marketing strategy in-app and count on word-of-mouth.

The takeaway from this recent crackdown is that the app discoverability situation is not getting better. By any stretch. And, the number of effective app marketing techniques available for developers is constantly shrinking.

Apple works hard on the iAd ad platform to give iOS app developers the tools to advertise their apps: Trending Searches, Search Suggestions will deploy in the App Store fall when iOS 8 rolls out. So, it would be unfair to say that Apple doesn’t take any steps to address the problems of app marketing/discoverability, but with more than a million apps in the marketplace, what they are doing is definitely not enough.

Having an extensive pool of data about app performance in the App Store, Apple’s team is certainly aware of the magnitude of the problem and one would hope that we will see more steps to address the discoverability problem. Hopefully, in parallel with cracking down on these promotional techniques.

Art Dogtiev,

Head of Branded Content

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