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Apple Says WiFi-sniffing Apps Stink

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Apple has (s aapl) 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 (s 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 (s wmt) 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.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform

Image courtesy Flickr user therubberduckie.

17 Responses to “Apple Says WiFi-sniffing Apps Stink”

  1. Well Apple has history of banning applications that can reasonably easily break the law, or in any possible way make any of their products be misused. In my opinion Apple taking a huge effort not to offend anyone to that extend that would make one wonder what they are so paranoid about.

  2. Apple Sucks

    Simply Iphone/Apple Sucks. Not allowed to scan for wifi? I mean come on? The Android OS is so much better in many ways. I thought apple was gay to begin with, but blocking wifi scanning apps? all i can say is GAY. Pretty soon apple will be telling you who your allowed to call and who your not allowed to call.

  3. At the Wireless Geographic Logging Engine ( ), a database and mapping system for “Net Stumbling” or “War Driving” hobbyists, we’ve seen the iPhone provide a low barrier-to-entry for this hobby. It combines a GPS with a Wifi radio, but it can only work when apps like Wifi-Where, WiFiFoFum and others are allowed to exist.

    These apps were inspected for months before finally getting through the nebulous App Store approval process. Some have been available for months or even years. Now, arbitrarily, they are banned. If they use API calls that Apple didn’t want them to, why were they approved? Why weren’t the developers contacted behind the scenes to address any fiddly technical issues Apple might foresee?

    As users all we see is a useful app, that was paid for, that now can not be updated. We can’t find the least used frequency channels to set our access points to, can’t take surveys of campus wireless coverage or find rogue wifi on a corporate network. And we can’t help with wireless mapping projects. There’s no app for that.

  4. As usual, the author mis-states things in a feeble attempt to make Apple look bad. What’s this with “Apple infuriates developers”? How many developers are upset? Every one I’ve talked to said that they knew about the private API rule from the start and they can’t believe these people did it, anyway. Please stop with the inflammatory leads.

    Apple rejected these apps because they use private APIs – a process which has been forbidden since the start of iPhone apps. Yes, some of them got through earlier, but Apple must have updated its scanning tools.

    Frankly, I applaud Apple. They’ve created an ecosystem where things work well together. I can pick up a system running iPhoneOS and know it will work – and exactly how it’s going to work. No worries about incompatibilities. No worries about security problems. No worries about apps crashing the system. No worries about every app behaving differently. It’s a smooth, elegant system and they maintain it by enforcing their developer rules.

    Developers who create useful apps are making millions of dollars on the App Store. If a developer doesn’t want to follow the rules, Apple doesn’t need them. It’s that simple.

  5. ricardo W

    Build an app, Stay within the guidelines of Apple and you’ll have no problems. The SDK guidelines explicitly state no using of Private Frameworks. What’s the problem? You use it, you lose your place in the App store. Just because there was an oversight to begin with doesn’t mean that you can yell and scream now. Follow the rules, just like everyone else.

    To those who say there is a double standard. There are over 100,000 apps. Even a sieve lets a hard piece of flour through sometimes.

    To the Google heads. I agree, you continue to keep your machines open, with different versions of machines to crash on; no UI consistency, with buttons on one machine not responding on another. Oh yes, I’m sure that Google can follow all of the security breaches that will drag your credit card number to some evil place by diversion. It’s happened already and Google caught it. I’ll bet that Googles own Android will be the only safe phone, while Verizon’s and others’ Droid machines will have issues. I agree, it’s only a matter of time before the scammers hit the GPhone. Open source all you want, but the scammers are really into open source too. It only takes one of these losers to create a worm that will whack you into obscurity.

    Apple may be heavy handed at times, but I feel safe using their phone.

  6. Constable Odo

    Why the heck are developers always getting incensed. I’ll bet it adds up to a tiny handful of developers. If Apple is so rough on developers, then why is the App Store the biggest of all the mobile platforms. Developers need to take the good with the bad. I think as long as they’re given an adequate reason why their apps have been pulled, that should suffice. Maybe developers should just leave the App Store now in case their apps might get pulled in the future. The developers are going to stay where the money is regardless of how bad Apple treats a few of them.

    • Scottix

      I don’t think people are getting a clear enough picture. When Apple rejects your app it gives a very generic description of why. This is not good enough, there needs to be more clear cut things you can and can not do. It hurts the developer because they could spend like a $100,000 on an app only to get it rejected from the store. That is bad juju. I mean are they just going to kick stuff out because they don’t think it works well. Who judges that?

  7. “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. “

    AGREED! But, Walmart shoppers can shop elsewhere, without “jailbraking” or compromising, by buying a cheapo phone. This ban is puzzling, since wifi finders are useful and not illegal or unethical. Could a clever developer circumvent the ban by authoring a web page with a javascript that could access the iPhone hardware for wifi seeking, or is that impossible?

  8. I’m not surprised at this decision. I use the iPhone and have shopped around in the App Store. Some apps are great, just pure genius. While others that I downloaded, I’m thinking to myself that I’ve just wasted 3 min of my life and trying to figure out why I downloaded it in the first place. I often wonder how people can waste time and resources developing an App that simply is useless.

  9. Paul Johnson


    Won’t be long now until the new phrase is Android FTV! or Android FTM! or Android FTRK!

    The security clock for Android is pointing at two minutes to midnight.

  10. Glenn Fleishman

    It’s not odd at all. Apple doesn’t let apps use private frameworks in practice; these are reserved hunks of code that return results and are intended only for Apple’s use. Typically, App Store reviewers reject any app that uses such frameworks. I suspect an automated tool just checks for calls and references.

    I’m not saying this is the right decision, but it’s surprisingly consistent. The firm whose blog you cite above states the situation involves a private framework.