As Apple Gives More Apps the Boot, EFF Presents the iPhone Developer Agreement
Article by George Norman
On 11 Mar 2010
To the regular user, the iPhone is a wonderful platform on which the user can run quite a lot of useful, or not so useful, iPhone apps. To the iPhone app developer, it is definitely not all sunshine and butterflies. Apple has control over everything that enters the App Store – and once in there, Apple can always kick an application out.

You may remember that is precisely what happened last month, when Apple launched a crusade against what it called “overtly sexual apps”. So Apple started to kick out apps that catered to the needs of the adult audience – such as Wobble iBoobs, an app that allows you to make any part of the body wobble, and some 5,000 other apps. The irony here is that Apple did not kick out apps from Sports Illustrated (swimsuit issue) for example, even though they also displayed images of scantly clad women. Apple’s Phillip Schiller justified the company’s decision by saying these apps are from “well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format.”


After the “make the App Store wholesome” bit, Apple moved on and started to kick out other types of applications from the App Store (earlier this month): apps that scan for Wi-Fi access points, known as Wi-Fi stumblers. Apps that use the iPhone’s Wi-Fi radio to actively scan for wireless hotspots have been kicked out from the biggest and most prolific app store on the face of the earth. The only explanation Apple provided is that the apps were using private frameworks.

“We received a very unfortunate e-mail today from Apple stating that WiFi-Where has been removed from sale on the App Store for using private frameworks to access wireless information,” WiFi Where-maker Three Jacks Software said.

Apple’s move to trim down the App Store did not stop there. Early this week reports started to surface that Apple is giving “cookie cutter” apps the boot as well. These are overtly simplistic apps that do little more than reproduce web content. Basically the same template is used to come up with numerous applications. To justify its removal of cookie cutter apps, Apple said it doesn’t want users to have to resort to a native application when they could do the same thing with a web app.

In this category we find e-books – because there is no way to sell e-books in the App Store, developers have been forced to turn their books into appbooks, overtly simple applications that do little else than let you, well, read a book. One question does come to mind: is Apple going to kick out books from the App Store? Out of the 150,000 applications in the App Store, more than 27,000 are appbooks.

How can Apple just start kicking apps out of the App Store? Simple – because it can! If a developer wants to get his app into the App Store, he has to sign the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which allows Apple to kill an app whenever it wants to. The agreement also says that Apple is never liable more than $50.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) managed to get its hands on the agreement and published it in full. To do so the EFF had to petition NASA (upon discovering there is a NASA iPhone app) under the Freedom of Information Act. Because you see, once a developer signs the agreement, he is not allowed to disclose its content.

The entire iPhone Developer Program License Agreement can be viewed over at the EFF. Here is what it includes in brief:
- Developers are not allowed to make public statements about the agreement and its terms.
- Any application developed with Apple’s SDK can only be publicly distributed via the App Store. Apple can reject an app for any reason, no matter if it complies with the formal requirements or not. Which leaves devs out in the cold should they develop an app with the SDK and the app is then rejected.
- No reverse engineering.
- No tinkering with any Apple software and technology (no jailbreaking, no enabling others to tinker with the iPhone, no making iPods work with open source software).
- Apple can “revoke the digital certificate of any of Your Applications at any time.” But wait, it gets better: Apple can remotely disable apps installed by the user on the iPhone.
- Apple is liable no more than $50.

“Overall, the Agreement is a very one-sided contract, favoring Apple at every turn. That's not unusual where end-user license agreements are concerned (and not all the terms may ultimately be enforceable), but it's a bit of a surprise as applied to the more than 100,000 developers for the iPhone, including many large public companies. How can Apple get away with it? Because it is the sole gateway to the more than 40 million iPhones that have been sold. In other words, it's only because Apple still "owns" the customer, long after each iPhone (and soon, iPad) is sold, that it is able to push these contractual terms on the entire universe of software developers for the platform,” commented Senior Staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fred von Lohmann.

Tags: Apple, iPhone, App Store, App, EFF, Electronic Frontier Foundation
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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