UPDATE Fear And Loathing in The App Store 16 - App Store Income Dashed With No Appeal
Written by Lucy Black
Tuesday, 11 October 2016
UPDATE: Someone isn't telling the truth, but that isn't really the issue. If you've already read the original news story, scroll to the bottom of the news item to decide whether Apple or Popescu has right on their side. Whichever it is, the underhand and clandestine machinations and the lack of a proper appeals process means that the developer can never be sure of a fair trial.
The dangers of living in an app store are obvious but somehow we all think that things will go well and there is nothing to worry about - but your income can be nuked in a single act and it does happen. The Dash iOS programming app from Kapeli has been banned from the App Store and Apple say that no appeal is possible.
The Dash app is a programmer's utility, an API documentation browser and code snippet manager, which is reasonably well thought of. It is source of income for programmer Bogdan Popescu, Kapeli's sole developer.
However Popescu's blog post of October 5th states:
"Earlier today, Apple cancelled my developer account and has removed Dash from the App Store."
The really disturbing thing is how little information Apple supplied about the incident. In fact because the cancellation occurred during an administrative change to the account it wasn't even immediately obvious:
Yesterday I sent Apple a request to migrate my account from an individual one to a company one. Once I verified my company with its D-U-N-S Number, they notified me that some features in iTunes Connect won’t be available during account migration.
A while later my iTunes Connect account started showing as “CLOSED” and my apps were removed from sale. I thought this was normal and part of the migration.
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. I called them again and they said they can’t provide more information.
Yes it does sound a lot like something that would happen in a Kafka novel, only in this case there isn't a trial anywhere in sight. The blog was later updated with the note:
"Apple contacted me and told me they found evidence of App Store review manipulation. This is something I’ve never done.
Apple’s decision is final and can’t be appealed."
Trial without jury, appeal or - well, trial of any sort.
OK you might think that he is guilty and deserves everything that has happened, but you can't be certain and, in the issue of review manipulation, neither can Apple. A third party might well have done the deed and might even have done so to frame the innocent.
So, without recourse to an appeal, a programmer has lost the right to sell his perfectly reasonable program without any way to market it to an alternative customer base. What is even worse is that, without a developer account, Kapeli can't even write programs for iOS and hence Apple has invalidated all of the knowledge and skill he invested in acquiring. To stop a programmer from working on a particular platform is restrictive and bad, but to stop them after they have mastered it is criminal.
There has to be a right of appeal and a clear and a public due process.
The app store is perhaps the worst invention of 21st century programming imaginable. In their current form they aren't so much walled gardens but totalitarian states with a weak sense of justice.
We really need to do something.
The big problem is that the usual organizations that fight for software and programmer freedom are not on the case because the programmer has, from their world view, already sold out to closed source software.
Apple has now released a press statement to a select set of websites generally regarded as Apple-friendly. The Loop, for example, quotes from it with:
"Almost 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected across two accounts and 25 apps for this developer so we removed their apps and accounts from the App Store. Warning was given in advance of the termination and attempts were made to resolve the issue with the developer but they were unsuccessful. We will terminate developer accounts for ratings and review fraud, including actions designed to hurt other developers. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, on behalf of all of our customers and developers."
Popescu has responded with a blog post:
"What I’ve done: 3-4 years ago I helped a relative get started by paying for her Apple’s Developer Program Membership using my credit card. I also handed her test hardware that I no longer needed. From then on those accounts were linked in the eyes of Apple. Once that account was involved with review manipulation, my account was closed.
What Apple has done: on Friday they told me they’d reactivate my account if I’d make a blog post admitting some wrongdoing. I told them I can’t do that, because I did nothing wrong. On Saturday they told me that they are fine with me writing the truth about what happened, and that if I did that, my account would be restored. Saturday night I sent a blog post draft to Apple and have since waited for their approval.
Tonight Apple decided to accuse me of manipulating the App Store in public via a spokesperson."
If we ignore Apple trying to manipulate the publicity machine so that Popescu has to confess before being forgiven, we also have the small matter that Popescu has a phone recording where an Apple spokesperson admits that they didn't give him any prior notification of the closing of his account.
You might, at this point, be ready to take sides. Clearly Apple has some evidence of wrongdoing and it claims to be linked to an account that the Popescu has had something to do with in the past. It is also clear that, by being connected with this account, Popescu has made things more difficult. But... and this is the really, really important point, it doesn't matter where the guilt lies in this case, what is important is how the guilt and the punishment are being handed out.
There is no public evidence, no due process and no trial of any kind. Apple has a completely opaque policing of the app store and removes the right to practice the skill of iOS programming without public proof of wrongdoing.
Apple might be right or it might be wrong, but asking for a public confession in return for a lenient sentence is an unforgivable act of a bully and a PR disaster.
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