The sad thing is it was not just my company which was targeted, but Apple removed this entire product category. We never knew the real reason why, or if it was bigger than just a random app reviewer trying to apply Apple policy, until May 2019.
That's when Bloomberg interviewed Phillip Shoemaker, who ran app reviews from 2009 to 2016 - regarding how Apple systemically removes whole categories of apps. I subsequently spoke to Phillip Shoemaker, who confirmed that Apple executives ordered the elimination of apps that drove downloads to the App Store. He said "Your app drove download volume. Apple doesn’t want any outside sources to drive ratings. So yeah, we got rid of all app recommendation apps." He said he thought it was unfair, but this was something Apple set out to do, and even as Senior Director of App Store (person directly in charge of App Review), he could not stop it.
The other thing that was hard to understand, is we used to have a great relationship with Apple. We were not flying under the radar. Since the App Store first launched in 2008, we used to be invited to all Apple events to see the new product launches, we met with the iTunes team to discuss upcoming initiates for the App Store, our apps were featured on the devices inside of many demo units into Apple Stores. It felt like a complete 180, and until this day I never got a formal conversation on what they actually objected to, beyond being pointed to a vague rule which was applied arbitrarily. They became a brick wall in terms of communication, and this is why I resorted to emailing Tim Cook. I assumed nothing would come of it, but it was the last thing I could think of.I never received a response, and never knew if he even got it, so I was shocked to see it again today from his inbox.
2) I worked at a mobile ads company 2013: kicked out of apple store
3) I worked at a mobile hosting company for small shops 2015: salons, restaurants, etc: kicked out of apple store
4) I worked at a mobile social network company (2017): kicked out of apple store.
5) I built an app where people can promote their github projects (2017): account suspended by github
6) Built another app to help locate doctors: blacklisted by google
The flip side is, you've been involved with a lot of projects. And that's often a big advantage. Some devs stay with the same company for 5 to 10 years.
Depending on how you play it, that doesn't have to be the worst thing in the world. The megacorps have an incredible diversity of roles you can try out.
So an unlucky developer could rapidly become even more unlucky, and infect others with that 'bad luck'.
More seriously you're a cautionary tale to what Stallman has warned us for so long.
Windows and Linux are third-party platforms too. I mostly develop for these two platforms (been doing for couple decades now), and never had the unfortunate experience of GP.
It's one thing if an app stops working on newer versions of the system due to fundamental change to that system. It's totally different if you get banned simply because the gatekeeper doesn't like your face.
3 - the apps for were too similar, we were kicked out for being "templated". eg two different hair salons stores had too similar functionality - but were aesthetically totally different
4 - the social network allowed people to post text, someone said something horrible on the network and reported it (with screenshot) to apple
6 - google reported the content was too similar, eg generated. every doctor had different content but the structure was too similar
This was clearly exploitation of their power. Let's find some horrible comments on Reddit now and report to Apple with screenshots, huh?
This feels a bit like “if you meet assholes all day, you’re the asshole” territory. Or someone who works in the space really doesn’t like them.
If a user doesn't like their moderation/filter, they can swap in a different one or disable it altogether.
I don't know why you originally eschewed the web. I've developed on closed platforms in the past: Facebook (when Facebook games like Farmville and Mafia Wars were crazy hot), Silverlight, OpenSocial, Twitter, and now Google Apps Script. My work is always worthless in 2-3 years, and what I "learned" about that platform is useless.
Now when I develop for a platform, my mindset is only if it's temporary, and if I will be okay if this is shut down in a year.
Old, mature technology is a treasure. Not something to make fun of
Besides, I am not sure how anyone can argue that the level of churn is bad, considering that it is usually proportional to the volume of new ideas and an eventual winner emerging (albeit not always in a meritocratic fashion).
That's a caricature, but all these platforms provide a variety of scaffolding and security, and the optimal setup is non-obvious.
Most of what I’ve learned about Silverlight was directly reusable for the rest of MS XAML platforms: WPF, WinRT, UWP, and now WinUI.
Bam, just like that all Arcade games became non-Arcade with a single email.
If this is not clear abuse of power, then what it is? Don't tell me that a Trillion dollar company couldn't come up with a better name for its subscription service without hurting hundreds, perhaps thousands of small time developers?
Thank you for telling your story to the man up in the ivory tower in such a beautiful way. It may not haven been listened to there, but it certainly has impacted me.
They didn't just say that. They pretended it was some other rule. Which means what people suspected is true -- they lie to you about the reason for your app being removed. You may have zero chance of complying with the rule they said you violated, because it wasn't really about that rule at all, it was about another secret rule or policy decision.
To me that's far more alarming than the fact that they decided to forbid a class of app that had previously been allowed.
They could arguably defend the ability to forbid any category or type of app they want with no notice; it's their store, they make the rules, they decided that kind of app was unwelcome. Although that they don't simply admit this must mean they think it would make them look bad, and/or discourage developers from developing for their platform, and/or be evidence of antitrust illegality, and/or something.
But when they instead lie about it... it makes the whole sytem into a kafkaesque maze, you never know when they are lying to you about their rules and when they are telling the truth, when there's something you could do to "fix" your app so it would be allowed, and when they have just already decided the whole category your app is in is banned; it's not because you actually accidentally violated any rules, and there's nothing you can do to fix it, but they will instead try to, well, "gaslight" you (I normally am not fond of that phrase, but it seems apt) into thinking you were in violation of a rule.
> He said he thought it was unfair, but this was something Apple set out to do, and even as Senior Director of App Store (person directly in charge of App Review), he could not stop it.
I would like to believe if I were him, I would have had the courage to quit. NOT because it is unfair to the apps banned. But because LYING about it makes the entire App Review process illegitimate and unethical and "gaslighting" developers, and I wouldn't be willing to be the person directly in charge of all App Review if it's gonna be BS like that.
I've experienced this directly a few times. In one case, we had an app in the store for several years and a random update that fixed a crash was blocked for violating the rule around allowing out of app purchases. It took a couple weeks to appeal and get it approved. In that process, we changed nothing functional and resubmitted with a couple bits twiddled to make the package different and that passed.
In another instance, we made three white-labelled versions of the app. Both differed from the original app only in the colors in the design palette, and the name of the publisher since these were to be published under our customers' own accounts. One passed review without comment, and the other was abandoned after several months of back-and-forth.
Once you get on their bad side with an App there is no end to it. The App Store review team will keep on rejecting every single update you do for totally unrelated random reasons.
One of my apps got approved when first submitted. Everything after that was just absurd to the point we had to abandon it. The App Store review team kept on rejecting any update we would make. The last one which was supposed to be a bugfix release got through three reviews. Each one got rejected due to different reasons. Each one addressed the problem the review team asked us to 'fix'. It was clear they did not want us in the store. We had to stop it. Half a year of work vanishing just like that.
It would have been so much easier if they had told us that they did not want us in the App Store. Such a waste of time.
That is impressive. We can't get our app past review because Apple is insisting we are permitting out-of-app purchases (not true, but they are insisting on in-app purchase capability).
They could be playing with people's livelihood in cases such as this.
They could have shut down in a more orderly fashion with 2.5 more months of severance.
In the context of criminal law, this is sometimes called "selective enforcement," and refers to the criminalization of normal behavior in order to provide plausible cover for violations of the actual, secret law. It's devastatingly unjust, and unsurprisingly applied in private jurisdictions.
I suspect there was a fairly detailed conversation about how apps such as yours could be supported while simultaneously being able to detect and mitigate 'cram and jam' strategies where apps pay per install. Short of doing quarterly audits of your books, I'm not sure how those dubious business practices could be avoided.
 And even with regular auditing, criminal enterprises manage to operate successfully with multiple ledgers.
At least they are not actively blackmailing you (yet).
The ads parent is seeing are not actually for shitty apps (as long as Apple does a decent job in app curation). They are part of the customer delight strategy, by making customers think "Cool, I didn't know my phone could be used for that".
The answer you never got from Apple was actually already in your own E-Mail all along.
Pay-Per-Install Ads will be a $118 BILLION industry by 2022. 
While you've missed out on millions of dollars, Apple sure saw this coming (Facebook probably was having quite a lot of success with it at the time?) and wanted those billions for themselves.
Protecting the user experience IS important to Apple, too, of course.., and it will always be the story they tell on the outside, but Craig, Phil or whoever was responsible for the AppStore at the time will have given a very different answer to Tim
Basically the idea was we helped you figure out which apps / games you would love and then link you directly to the official App Store to download it
I guess I'm asking: why did you choose to make this an app in the first place? Was that the only way to get commissions from apple?
I attended an Apple TV event in Berlin once, it was actually really good and well polished, but at the same time it felt like a marketing event aimed at developers to please make things for the Apple TV platform. They shared an e-mail address as well, going "If you've made something cool, send us an email and we may feature it".
Still a bit salty that I didn't pursue it further, but honestly, I need a team to work on an app. I'm comfortable with the technical side of things, but I suck at ideas, product management and design, and design is incredibly important.
Banning you guys from the AppStore is Apple’s loss. I’m glad to have found you now though.
Awkward but genuine question: is there anything out there like this for Android? :)
Seems like an app recommendation app.
The nuance here was there a fair number of bad players in this space and abuse was not uncommon. Ie, "ratings" apps that were not really ratings / user reviews were bogus / paid for etc.
Apple has a fair bit of visability into app store reviews (ie, did users actually install apps). That said, STILL lots of fakes on app store itself in terms of reviews, so in the end I think your app was actually the BETTER solution (curated lists meant you didn't have the app review spam problem, some ethics means you hopefully didn't push the adware type apps).
So yeah, apple screwed up. I do wish you could filter app reviews by verified in-country users (ie, apple uses the gps of the device and icloud account length / other verifications) to weed out the crappy reviews. If you look you can see where people "buy" their reviews (lumps of all 5 star reviews with min content length).
I know this seems completely pointless and useless, but.. this same disregard for UX is repeated in other major ways. Such as allowing less-than-60fps scrolling on modern phones. Last time I used Android was 2016 or so, and the inefficient animations are probably less noticeable now, but I bet it's still inefficient.
Everything just seems way more thought out and well executed on iOS.
To be clear, I'm glad you enjoy Apple products and I'm not trying to talk you out of that -- as if that were possible. But I do want you to understand that my experience with them is different than yours. Apple products don't delight me. I've tried them. Every time an iOS device ends up in my hands (something that happens way too often, including earlier today) it's a frustrating experience. They feel cold, uncaring and limited. Android has moved in this direction, getting more polished but less delightful over the years, but it's still a better experience for me.
Again, I'm not saying your feelings about Apple products aren't valid. They certainly are. I'm glad you've shared them and I admire your efforts to support the iOS platform. I just wish you respected people like me who don't experience technology the same way you do. I'm glad that iOS and Android products both exist in the market. There are audiences for both -- and then some.
And as for the web, we will have to agree to disagree. Not only do I think it's not dead, I don't think it will ever be dead. That's not something I'd say about either iOS or Android. The web can't go out of business or get bought. Anything it's missing can be added. The first web browser didn't support images! On the other side, it wasn't too long ago that people thought Blackberry was here to stay.
Clearly there are many features iOS and Android offer that are difficult to match with the web. For now. Clearly the development tools are more convenient than those available for the web. But there is one feature of the web that other platforms will never be able to match: it belongs to all of us. No one has to take a 30% cut of your revenue. No one gets to decide what you can and cannot make available. In your letter to Tim Cook you make it clear that you made use of that advantage yourself, even if you don't seem grateful. Freedom always comes at a price and it's up to you to decide whether it's a price worth paying. If it's not then develop for the platform you prefer. But please remember that there are people like me who think differently.
Imagine if you had spent years (maybe you have, I don't know you) building an app and a business for a platform you love only to have it snatched away.
Wouldn't it bring out strong emotion and cause you to want to appeal to them in the same way?