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Summary:

Apple’s approval policies for App Store offerings have drawn plenty of flak for lacking visibility and being arbitrarily enforced, but they do help protect consumers from overpriced and shoddy apps. Which is something Google will need to keep in mind as its Android Market expands.

Apple’s policing of its App Store may be heavy-handed and unpredictable, but the system is effective at keeping questionable apps away from iPhone users. And it’s a strategy Google may eventually be forced to adopt as its Android Market expands.

The Cupertino enforcers yesterday dropped Molinker, a prolific Chinese developer, for allegedly posting too many positive reviews of his own offerings. Molinker’s 1,000-plus apps were pulled after the iPhone photography blog iPhoneography alerted Apple to an inordinate number of five-star reviews written by users who reviewed only Molinker apps — despite the fact that many of the offerings were alleged knock-offs or simple photo logs. All but two of 44 reviews for Molinker’s “NightCam Pro,” for example, were raves, according to an iPhoneography reader who called attention to the developer, and none of the 42 positive reviewers had reviewed apps from any other developers. Molinker’s apps generally sold for between $1 and $5, apparently.

Predictably, Apple quickly banned Molinker’s offerings from its store, although the developer claims he has not been contacted by Apple and was unaware of any problems. That’s probably true, given Apple’s penchant for quick, decisive action in dealing with rogue developers.

But while Apple risks losing large numbers of developers if it doesn’t provide more visibility into its approval policies, Google’s laissez-faire attitude toward its storefront is sure to spur a surge of questionable apps from shady developers as Android gains steam, which in turn will result in some irate consumers. So both Apple and Google will have to find ways to placate their developer communities even as they protect their users from shoddy, overpriced apps.

Image courtesy of Jim Rees via Flickr.

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  1. I’m concerned that there could be a spectacular breach on Android, due to well disguised malware. Same could happen with Apple, but less likely.

  2. Isn’t this Molinker incident an indication that the App Store policing isn’t working? That despite all the controls in place, shoddy apps are still getting through. Molinker’s apps were removed only after being reported by a 3rd party (iPhonography) and weren’t caught by the App Store “safeguards”.

  3. Mo Jangda, I don’t agree with your assessment. Having controls in place does not mean they are 100%. There is nothing ever that is 100%. All it means is that it lessens the chance of something bad from happening. So, like David Abraham said in his post above yours, malware is more likely to happen on the Android than it is on the iPhone but it also could happen for iPhone.

    Since when was anything 100%? There is nothing that is 0% risk.

  4. Apple took down apps after a 3rd party (with a vested interest?)complains that they are gaming the rating system. These apps weren’t malicious. Just another app store hustle.

    How does this relate to Android or iPhone being susceptible to exploits? Please connect the dots for me.

    And Google’s approach to the market is if you buy an app and you don’t like it, you get a full refund. Maybe Apple should copy that.

    Sounds like more of the Apple FUD. “I’m concerned that there could be a spectacular breach ….”. Great writing, David.

  5. I tend to agree that the malware argument isn’t a very good one.

    First, there have been Apps that have used phone numbers inappropriately (eg, mogoRoad and Storm8) Apple didn’t catch these until users complained. So it’s really users who are catching these things and reporting them to Apple. I would assume that Android users will report things to Google.

    Second, Android apps have to say what components of the system they need to use and they do not get access to those components unless the user authorizes them. So a cool game that needs to access your phone number or address book info will get flagged. Ideally, the user will then go, “Huh? Why does this game need access to my address book? DENY!” About the only thing Apple protects in this fashion is your GPS location.

    Third, I have to admit I’m curious as to how Mac OS X can be so secure that there are no viruses or other nasty things but iPhone OS X is so insecure that Apple must control every App or there would be a scourge of malware. I’d love to hear an answer to this question without using the term “market share” because whenever Windows users say that the reason that Macs have no viruses is because they have no market share, Mac users jump in with the whole “market share doesn’t matter” bit.

    Everything I’ve seen from Apple is re-active (users report problems and Apple does something about it). That said, it may be the “secret” realm where you don’t hear about the more egregious things because Apple catches them before they leave the gate.

  6. Apple has always had refunds for apps. Click on the “report a problem” link in the invoice and request a refund.

    Apple has the review process to catch Trojans. Malicious apps that appear to be one thing and harmless but are actually harmful. Viruses are not possible because there aren’t third party background apps and only user controlled app installing.
    If the review process fails apple can remotely delete the malware. They then use the tax, banking and credit details supplied by the developer to track and catch them.

    The problem with android is that they have none of those safeguards. The only safeguard is the user allow or deny an app. There is no review, no remote delete and no registering of developers. there is even the possibility of viruses because of the background apps. Hence it’s just like the pc world where malware reigns supreme even with virus software.

    OSX has no virus problems because of it’s sensible permissions system and unix heritage. But like the iPhone it can still get Trojans which are installed by the user. Users have to be able to install software after all. It has some safeguards even with those. It asks for permission before running a app downloaded from the Internet and apps only have the privs of the user installing them. But a computer is not a phone so the rules are stricter for the iPhone. You want the bill for a after a rogue app dials a couple of thousand pay per minute numbers?

    It’s great to have apple testing iPhone apps for bugs and problems. It means I don’t have to. And if I do have a problem I can ask for a refund. I wish I could do that for mac apps as well ;)

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