updated 05:55 pm EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
French developer admitted to breaking Apple's guidelines
Calling Apple's decision to pull AppGratis out of the App Store for its violation of the rules "extremely brutal and unilateral," a junior minister for the digital economy in France has said she plans to ask the European Commission to investigate "Internet companies" for "repeated abusive behavior" and called for tighter regulation of digital platforms, search engines and social media. The thinly-veiled attack on Apple, Google and social services like Twitter and Facebook comes on the heels of Apple's pulling of the France-based iMediapp's program.
Publisher iMediapp created AppGratis as a program that would help users discover new apps, enticing them with a daily deal where a normally paid app would be available free for 24 hours. The program also recommended other apps that paid the company a fee to be promoted. As such programs have proliferated, Apple has begun cracking down on them, saying that the App Store is meant to be a true "meritocracy," and that paying for promotion of a given app distorts results and pushes lower-quality apps through secretly paid-for "recommendations." One of Apple's iOS guidelines explicitly bars such behavior.
AppGratis was removed from the App Store not only for violations of the rules regarding paid promotions, but also because it had broken other rules against using push notifications to promote or advertise other products. The company admitted that had done so, and despite the protestations of the CEO of iMediapp that he was "in absolute shock" over the removal, Apple told Reuters that it had warned AppGratis before the removal of its violations, and that the company chose to ignore the warning. AppGratis claims it has 12 million users worldwide, and generated revenue of €9 million ($11.8 million) in 2012.
Despite the admission of guilt and the prior warning, the minister Fleur Pellerin said that the removal by Apple was "behavior not worthy of a company of this size" and said she would call for tighter regulation. France routinely complains about and challenges foreign Internet companies -- blackmailing them with investigations, tax audits and even lawsuits to bully the mostly English-oriented Internet into protecting or promoting French interests, businesses and the language above its own presence.
Recently, Google was forced to set up a special fund (and contributed $82 million to it) to "help French media develop their presence on the Internet" after being threatened with legislation that would have required the search giant to pay any French media it linked to, and pay licensing fees for any links, headlines or snippets of content it might use. Google was also audited by French authorities for charging French advertisers taxes, even though the company's European headquarters is in Ireland (ironically for tax purposes).
The country is continuing to study ways to shake down large foreign Internet companies for additional taxes, as companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and others have a long history of using all legal means available to avoid tax liability -- a problem the companies are also facing in the US, though the very legislators that decry and investigate such "abuses" are the same ones that set up the tax avoidance loopholes in the first place.