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Apple to crack down on social sharing, video viewing rewards in apps

updated 08:35 pm EDT, Mon June 9, 2014

Apps already being rejected for offering incentives for users to spam others

With a revamped App Store in iOS 8, Apple will be making a number of changes to help users find and discover new apps of interest to them. In the meantime, it is not waiting until the fall to begin forcing developers to play by more even rules -- the company is now in the process of rejecting apps that rely on "incentives" such as forced video watching or forced social sharing that reward players for effectively spamming other users on the game makers' behalf.

Some developers are receiving rejection notices for their apps whenever they submit upgrades or offer a new program if the app offers any method of rewarding the user for engaging in specific activities designed to promote the app outside of App Store reviews. The company is now citing two existing provisions in existing App Guidelines, section 2.25 and section 3.10, as a method for barring apps that offer free in-game credits or similar rewards to players if they use an in-app mechanism to promote the game on Facebook or other social networks. To be clear, developers can ask players to spread the word about an app they enjoy, but cannot provide any sort of reward or an in-game mechanism to promote such actions.

Section 2.25 reads "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 to provide significant added value for a targeted group of customers." Repeat offenders risk losing their iOS Developer Program membership, if Apple decides that the incentivized reward system falls under section 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."

When iOS 8 is released, developers will be able to include their apps in "bundles," which can be offered at a savings and should, alongside App Store reviews, help promote their apps. Some developers have recently been abusing the system by asking for customers to rate the app, but steering any less-than-five-star reviews to the developer's customer support rather than posting them to iTunes. Now, some developers are offering in-game rewards (such as extra lives or currency) if users will post five-star reviews or post pre-written glowing reviews to social networks.

One developer told TechCrunch that the ban would be applied retroactively to apps that feature "reward sharing," first-run ads for other apps and other such promotional offers that violate the two sections. Based on initial reports, Apple is going after only mechanisms that offer an incentive to post a good review or share with social networks, and ads that promote other apps not made by the same developer. Non-incentivized promotion options (a request to share game news with Twitter, for example) or install ads that promote the developers' other projects without a reward continue to be approved.

The change will have a big impact on a number of top titles as well as up-and-coming apps. Candy Crush, for example, relies heavily on social promotion to help promote itself, and rewards players who share on social networks with extra lives and other rewards. The practice will have to be modified for the game to continue being offered on the App Store, but when another developer pointed out the Candy Crush violation, he was told that "on occasion, there may be apps on the App Store that don't appear to be in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines ... it takes time to identify these occurrences, but another app being out of compliance is not a reason for your app to be."

The change may also hurt app analytics firms, which are also marketers who specialize in cross-promotion. Companies such as Flurry, TapJoy, AdColony, AppLovin and Applifier among others will have to make significant changes to stay within the rules. However, the rule enforcement should actually benefit traditional ad networks such as Google and Apple's own iAd, which have always conformed to existing guidelines. New ways to reach the top of the various App Store charts or otherwise without incentives will have to be devised, though a number of recent top-performing apps (such as the now-pulled Flappy Bird) managed to find an audience without incentives.

by MacNN Staff





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