FCC Opens Inquiry Regarding Google Voice App Rejection

According to the Wall Street Journal, the FCC is opening an inquiry into the Google Voice app rejection debacle.

In a statement Friday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the FCC “has a mission to foster a competitive wireless marketplace, protect and empower consumers, and promote innovation and investment.” The inquiry letters “reflect the Commission’s proactive approach to getting the facts and data necessary to make the best policy decisions.”

Letters have been sent to Apple, Google, and AT&T looking for more information. TechCrunch has transcripts of the letters, which break the inquiry down roughly like this:

  • Apple has been asked why they refused the Google Voice app, what role AT&T played in the refusal, and why other apps that integrate into Google Voice were pulled after their approval, and what other apps were refused for the iPhone?
  • Google has been asked for the a description of the proposed app, what explanation (if any) they received from Apple on why it was rejected, what other Google applications have been approved or are pending, and are there other mechanisms by which an iPhone user will be able to access either some or all of the features of Google Voice? If so, please explain how and to what extent iPhone users can utilize Google Voice despite the fact that it is not available through Appleā€™s App Store (emphasis mine; I find them phrasing the inquiry to reference jailbreaking interesting).
  • AT&T has been asked what role they played in the rejection, did Apple consult with AT&T on the rejection, does AT&T know of other app store rejections, and is there anything in A&T’s terms of services that limit customer usage of third party apps?

I’ve ranted on my thoughts on how Apple is running the App store already, so I’m not going to cover it again. However, I’m applauding the FCC looking into this. Apple is handling App Store rejections similar to how myself and my childhood friends resolved differences when we played games: we changed the rules when we were losing and when called on it, we pouted. There’s no consistency to this. “Your app is approved, no wait it’s not, sorry. OK, we’re not sorry. Your bug fix is rejected even though the original app has been in the store for months. No, we’re not sorry about that, either. Your app allows unfiltered access to the Internet even though you can use Mobile Safari to find even more hardcore content.”

Riverturn, the developer of VoiceCentral — one of the Google Voice-integrated apps Apple approved and then unapproved — comments on his blog his experiences when he called Apple on their inconsistent rules and Apple just pouted. Developers need to know what the rules of rejection are before they start investing time and money into the process. It’s becoming apparent that even support from Phil Schiller himself isn’t a guarantee the app will be approved.

While I don’t think the FCC inquiry is going to directly affect whether Google Voice makes an appearance on the App Store, I hope Apple sees this as a warning shot across the bow and realizes people other than irate developers and users are paying attention. Apple needs to be more transparent about how approvals and rejections are handled. “If you don’t like it, tough,” isn’t an acceptable answer. If it takes the FCC to start a sea change, I’m all for it.

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