Apple’s decision-making process in removing apps from its App Store recently came into question by activist investors. A Financial Times report (opens in new tab) has said that Apple has promised to be more transparent with details on why it removes certain apps from the App Store.
Apple is known for removing apps that don’t comply with its guidelines. The tech giant removed as many as 30,000 apps from the Chinese App Store in 2020. And apps like WhatsApp and Signal are also not allowed in the country’s App Store. Similarly, many social media apps are also banned in China and Russia's App Stores. Likewise, both TikTok and PUBG have been banned in India’s App Store since 2020.
In late 2021, the China App Store banned some Bible and Koran study tool apps which then prompted activist investors to question why some apps were “inexplicably banned”. The investors said this could be a threat to “freedom of expression” in countries like Russia and China.
The Financial Times mentions that Apple has “long been criticised for acquiescing to foreign governments’ requests that certain apps be removed.” In the first half of 2021, for instance, China raised 34 legal violations and asked that 89 apps be removed. Apparently Apple did not object to any of those requests.
Apple’s Transparency Report
Apple does release a Transparency Report (opens in new tab) to investors which mentions how many apps each country has requested be removed, whether the request is based on a legal violation, and whether Apple complied with the request.
Now, the tech giant has agreed to divulge more information on the removal of apps in its next report. This will include the legal basis for removal requests by each government along with a breakdown by country and app category. It will also mention how many apps it removes for violating App Store policies. However, the company has reportedly said it will still not disclose why individual apps have been taken down.
Investors have said this additional information will help determine if Apple is stifling freedom of speech and expression with its decisions.
Trouble in Apple’s ‘walled garden’
These are not the only issues that have plagued Apple's App Store recently. A French court fined Apple €1 million (opens in new tab) over its “abusive” App Store practices with regard to “unfair” commercial clauses on app developers.
Closer to US shores, Apple is in a long standing battle with Epic Games over Apple’s in-app purchase system. Epic Games went with its own in-app payment system which prompted the iPhone-maker to remove Fortnite from the App Store. This in turn led to Epic Games filing a lawsuit against them saying Apple's policy of taking up to 30% of a purchase made through the App Store is anti-competitive and harmful. Fortnite is still banned from the US App Store as of now.
In some good news for iPhone users though, Apple could soon open iPhone to third party app stores. If this comes through, it is huge and is a big change from the company’s walled-garden stance for its App Store. This could also mean apps like Fortnite could make a comeback on iOS and potentially even the many-deleted apps in China and Russia as well.