Apple Finds Middle Ground for Apps That Incentivize Sharing

Source: Apple

Earlier this month, Wall St. Cheat Sheet reported on an App Store policy that worried app developers and publishers: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had begun rejecting apps that incentivized the viewing of video ads and posting about an app via social media. TechCrunch reports that that policy seems to have changed, with the number of related app rejections declining, indicating that Apple is rolling the policy back.

Apple’s original rejections of apps cited Section 2.25 and 3.10 of the App Store’s review guidelines. Section 2.25 prohibits developers from promoting apps other than their own, and 3.10 prohibits developers from manipulating App Store chart rankings: “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 which provide significant added value for a specific 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”

TechCrunch says that Apple is allowing some of the apps that it initially rejected back into the App Store. Apple has also reportedly relaxed the restrictions to just prohibit apps from offering incentives to users who review the app, rate the app or download another app. All of those actions can influence apps’ ranking on the App Store’s charts. And while developers can display video ads for their own apps or for apps created by others, they just can’t incentivize users to download those apps.

As TechCrunch explains, video ads have taken hold in the app development community as a way for developers to earn more money and to get their apps discovered. App promotion and monetization companies have sprung up to help, and an army of companies like AdColony, Applifier (Unity), Flurry, TapJoy, SupersonicAds, Vungle, AppLovin, Sponsorpay, and NativeX now provide developers with video ads, which are often marketing other apps. Developers offer their users an in-game incentive to view the ad, and the app advertised gains increased exposure.

Incentivized social sharing, another behavior that Apple was prohibiting apps from promoting, is used perhaps most famously by King’s (NYSE:KING) Candy Crush Saga. In exchange for posting about their progress on Facebook, players can gain extra lives in the game. In banning both methods, Apple was looking to eliminate the ability for developers to game the system and artificially affect apps’ rankings on App Store charts. But the new rules compounded the lack of transparency as to exactly how the App Store rankings even operate, and many developers complained that even legitimate uses of social sharing or video ads to gain exposure were already and would be punished.

Under Apple’s newly relaxed policies, developers can reward users for viewing video ads, but they can’t incentivize any actions correlated with downloading an app. As TechCrunch put it, “a good rule of thumb here seems to be if a reward is being used mainly to change an app’s ranking on the App Store’s charts, that’s not allowed.” 

Apple’s move to relax restrictions should help the company find a middle ground. Apps that previously used incentivized video ad viewing and social sharing to aggressively promote themselves and raise revenue will likely not be allowed to continue to do so. But the apps that didn’t abuse those methods, even asking users to opt in to participate, will be able to continue (provided they aren’t linking incentives to downloads).

Apple is likely working out the regulations now, ahead of the release of iOS 8, because the new operating system will bring with it a new set of tools to organically increase apps’ exposure, downloads, and rankings. Those features, including a better Explore section, more subcategories, search suggestions, trends, app bundles, and more analytics for developers, will aim to give developers more fair ways to gain a piece of the App Store’s huge revenue without abusing its ranking system in the process.

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