Apple can delay enforcing its ad ban, says analyst Gurman

Mark Gurman, a longtime Apple analyst and current Reuters reporter who claims to have knowledge of Apple’s roadmap as well as insider info, says Apple can delay making changes to App Store rules in the courts. This comes after the company added an “unwanted downloads” section to the app store, a move that many saw as a way to circumvent Apple’s current ban on apps that run advertisements.

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Gurman has amassed a huge following for claiming leaks from inside Apple and tips about the company’s roadmap, mostly through his lengthy posts on 9to5Mac.

The context: Back in May, Apple began enforcing its developer agreement — which includes a ban on apps that run advertisements — by partially blocking apps that offered wallpapers and subscription services as well as apps that offer direct links to advertisements (like Gmail and Facebook). The company quickly deleted the offending app from the App Store (below), but even so, many took notice of the change in language.

The company quickly ruled against some of those apps, but would allow certain apps to function while still ad-free (such as Emojipedia), and also issued a statement saying that “advertisements would not be removed as such,” but would be limited by “certain exceptions.” And now, in a blog post on Thursday, Gurman says that Apple can delay enforcing the ban for multiple reasons. Here’s his (very lengthy) explanation:

Q: What’s the story with Apple’s ad ban?

A: As I’ve pointed out previously, Apple kicked out some of the most popular apps in its store for violating its developer agreement. Now it’s possible to have a more lenient set of rules in the App Store. As a result, we’re seeing a few apps enter Apple’s store in areas where they were previously blocked. These include apps that do not connect to external ad networks or publishers that sell subscriptions. If these apps are deemed to be in compliance with the rules going forward, then they’ll get the favorable treatment as in previous cases. However, if apps still violate the terms in question, we’ll reconsider the apps at that time.

One advantage of such a policy is that it allows Apple to emphasize the importance of supporting publishers and an even larger install base when deciding which apps are suitable to be added to the App Store. Another benefit is that Apple can defer decisions to regulatory bodies and private lawsuits if those entities disagree with Apple’s decision. As a result, it’s possible we may see the ban on the ads, too.

Q: Why can Apple do this now?

A: Apple is using a little-known policy to let iOS apps that violate its developer agreement install ads on the App Store. The current rules for apps in its store prohibit apps from using advertising as a way to garner users or encourage them to spend money. However, “unwanted downloads” are a separate category within Apple’s strict rules (or “App Review Guidelines”). Apple’s legal team once told me that ad-loading is a different category altogether, separate from any content-related decision.

More importantly, it’s legal for Apple to delay implementing its ad-loading ban, under the current framework. The ban is therefore a decision that Apple is now being forced to allow as a way to promote the continued growth of its ad-based App Store model.

Q: Wait, I thought that was already something we were allowed to do.

A: The ads part of the ban changes things. For example, earlier, we weren’t allowed to download apps. Now, we can also download apps or display ads in the app without doing an uninstall, without downloading them, or showing them as part of an ad that would put you in danger of replacing your main app. This opens up a whole new area of apps where apps that originally violated Apple’s new restrictions can not run ads, but ad-enabled apps can and Apple can still claim that they are violating the new rules.

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