Apple Cuts Down “A Real Tree,” Shuns Charity Apps

Yesterday we covered Apple’s seemingly automated rejection of a new Tweetie update, which has thankfully since been reversed. It must’ve been a no brainer once they realized what they’d done, especially since, while using Wordbook last night, I found I was able to search for, find, and have a computerized voice speak any profanity I could imagine, so long as the filter was off in the app’s settings.

arealtree_screenshot3I was also made aware of a second rejection yesterday, this one actually less of a rejection and more of a revocation after the fact. The app in question in this case is A Real Tree (iTunes link), which we covered when it was initially released. Mokugift, the people behind A Real Tree, contacted me explaining the situation, and it provides some rare insight into how Apple deals directly with iPhone developers. As a bit of background, A Real Tree is an app that is used to help plant trees in areas hurt by deforestation. You purchase the app, they plant a tree. Simple.

In the email, Mokugift’s representative describes how Apple called them a week ago to inform them that A Real Tree would need to be altered or would be removed from the App Store. The reason given was that a new policy was in place prohibiting apps from claiming to do anything beyond themselves, and that any and all applications related to charity were also no longer permitted. According to Apple, this was clear from the SDK agreement, though a search by Mokugift couldn’t produce any such reference in that document.

Not only that, but when asked for a written copy of the new policy, the Apple rep stated that they were only allowed to communicate it over the phone. In other words, they couldn’t commit anything to paper, where it might get out to the newsmedia and circulate. The shyness went even further, according to our source:

This person even declined to email us from an Apple email address to confirm that he worked for Apple. We wondered if this was legit, so we called Apple and asked for him via the front desk. He answered, so as far as we know he works there, but he won’t confirm his role nor this unwritten policy.

The conditions Apple gave in order to keep A Real Tree in the Apple store were to remove any reference to planting any actual trees, which is basically the entire point of the app. Mokugift was given until March 10 (yesterday) to comply, otherwise the app would be pulled. As of today, the app is still available, but there is no description associated with it.

Mokugift would like to continue helping the United Nations Environment Programme, but they’re at a loss as to how to convey the purpose of the app without stating that they will plant a tree for every app sold. They’d like our readers to offer suggestions as to how to get around the limitation. My own idea? Encourage users to write reviews which describe the app’s functionality, so at least it will be visible somewhere on the app’s page in iTunes.

Pretty sure we didn’t need another example of why the App Store review process is broken, but we got one anyway. Has me really hoping the Cydia Store pans out.

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