Apple Says WiFi-sniffing Apps Stink

Apple has once again infuriated iPhone developers by dumping offerings from its App Store. This time Wi-Fi hotspot-sniffing apps are the problem. The company yanked all apps that actively scan for Wi-Fi connections, according to this blog entry posted last night from 3 Jacks Software, which makes the WiFi-Where app (hat tip Softpedia):

We received a very unfortunate email today from Apple stating that WiFi-Where has been removed from sale on the App Store for using private frameworks to access wireless information. It also appears that all other competing WiFi enabled apps have been removed as well. This is very unfortunate as the past 2-3 months have seen a handful of new WiFi apps get approved. Hopefully Apple will allow this functionality in a future SDK.

The iPhone comes with basic a basic scanning feature that helps users connect to Wi-Fi networks, of course, but Apple’s new policy bans the handful of new apps that had come to market featuring more sophisticated offerings and technical information for finding and connecting to hotspots. Tonchidot, a Tokyo-based developer, said its augmented reality app Sekai Camera was also booted from the App Store after Apple changed its policy regarding “the way apps access Wi-Fi devices.” Applications that use location information to search through databases of hotspots weren’t impacted by the purge. I’ve pinged Apple for comment and will update the post if I hear back from the company.

The move is especially odd because AT&T — perhaps more than any other carrier — has actively embraced Wi-Fi, and iPhone users have driven much of its Wi-Fi traffic. Of course, Apple has been heavily criticized for App Store policies many view as heavy-handed or arbitrarily enforced. The company last month banned some apps from smaller publishers that featured bikini-clad models, for instance, but inexplicably kept similarly prurient offerings from Sports Illustrated and other well-known media brands.

I’ve long argued that Apple — like Wal-Mart or any other retailer — has every right to decide which items to sell and which to keep out of its store. But suddenly banning an entire category of apps on a whim is a sure way to incense the developers, who are the foundation of the App Store — and have an ever-increasing number of attractive platforms on which to build their offerings.

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