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AppStore Reviews Should Be Stricter (tirania.org)
127 points by robteix 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 120 comments

I'm a parent -- it's never been easier to control what your children are doing on devices. My son isn't an admin on his laptop. I don't let him download arbitrary apps and he doesn't even own his own i-device yet. He's only slightly older than Miguel's kids, and he has a Switch (with parental controls on), but I don't see any need to give him his own iPad.

When he wasn't old enough to learn about dark patterns, we didn't expose him to any! Now that he's older, dark patterns are something we talked to him about and he understands. No matter how restrictive you make an app store, you're never going to eliminate sources of manipulation. Each failure, including one of his accounts getting "hacked", is an opportunity for learning.

What's not an opportunity is locking down the entire world so children can't screw up.

It has been absolutely fascinating to see my 3 year old interact with his grandparents as he "helps" them play Scrabble on their iPad.

Together they decide to watch in-app ads; try installing some free-to-play game apps that seem like they might be amusing for an adult to show a child how they use; and otherwise explore the bounds of what you can do & learn on the modern walled-garden Internet. The grandparents are pretty media savvy ("this is an advertisement -- they want to sell you something") but are overall a little less conservative than the parents about screen time and are occasionally willing to, for example, try new apps that turn out to be scammy shovelware.

I've been thinking about getting the kid a non-networked desktop PC with a keyboard and seeing whether he derives any joy from the kind of basic, actual applications I grew up with -- a word processor program and a printer; literally QBASIC and gorillas.bas; etc.; with the understanding that this is an amusing anachronistic toy.

To be honest the biggest thing I'm trying to think about with the kids is not so much about screen time but about dealing with information more generally. Ads work really well on kids, but so does any organic, confidently stated information.

How do you convey the idea that that "just because you read something online doesn't mean it's true"? What happens when adults in your life (including sometimes your own parents) don't model a safe level of skepticism?

A lot of dinner time conversation revolves around stuff that any of us, including the kids, have read or seen online.

A few months ago (while school was closed and we were quarantined), my son relayed to us all information about COVID-19 that he had come across online (likely via YouTube). I was expecting a bunch of misinformation but all of it was spot on! We've also talked about Flat Earthers. The other day we ended up discussing why Wikipedia isn't allowed as source at school.

> I've been thinking about getting the kid a non-networked desktop PC with a keyboard and seeing whether he derives any joy from the kind of basic, actual applications I grew up with -- a word processor program and a printer; literally QBASIC and gorillas.bas; etc.; with the understanding that this is an amusing anachronistic toy.

We grew up in similar times and from my experience as a parent it doesn't really work. We did a lot of that stuff because it was what we had. I did introduce my son to emulators and classic Nintendo games; the idea of 3 lives and your dead was a bit of a shock. But he eventually got Super Mario Maker and making your own classic Mario levels is more fun than playing someone else's.

>>> The other day we ended up discussing why Wikipedia isn't allowed as source at school.

Because Wikipedia has made obsolete all research tasks given by schools? One search and the wikipedia article will tell you everything there is to know about a subject.

Yeah, try searching for anything even mildly political, and see how much of "everything" there is to know you see about it.

Kids between 2 and 11 years old spend an average of 5/6 hours per day in front of a screen. And kids between 2 and 3 see an average of 25,600 ads a year.

This article is not about restricting the use of mobile devices or parenting, it's about regulating the software industry. Parents don't want their kids to be exposed constantly to advertising on their day-to-day lives, or pressured into buying things all the time.

The European Union is doing a good job regulating businesses, however, Apple is doing a lousy job regulating their own ads and payment systems. And this is because the AppStore makes $60 billion a year thanks to ads and subscriptions.

In my opinion, Apple and the AppStore should be regulated more by the European Union.

My kid sees more ads now that he watches YouTube on his Switch but between 2 and 3 and I don't think he saw a single ad. We don't have cable (just streaming) and I always have browser ad blocking enabled. Even on mobile devices, I greatly dislike apps that have ads.

I'm not a parent but all practices described in the article infuriate me as well. I'm not sure why should I try to deduce if the next app I will install uses any of them -- and you don't even need to lock down APIs to prevent this.

All you need is a simple 'complain' function in App Store that will trigger a review by human with following expulsion of offending app (and probably the developer account too).

> Each failure, including one of his accounts getting "hacked", is an opportunity for learning.

I do not have a child but I completely agree. Some of my best learning experiences have been from being manipulate when I was younger. The loss was nothing of consequence in the grand scheme of my life, but the lessons had tremendous value.

Learning the hard way can be stickier. But it can also be devastating. STDs are a very permanent reminder to learn from the mistakes of others. (Not advocating sheltering kids unnecessarily.)

If they must learn the hard way, better it be on smaller problems than big ones. Better to lose your Roblox account to a scammer as kid than your bank account when you're an adult.

We always drilled into him basic cybersecurity -- don't give out your password, it's too good to be true it probably is, etc. But for whatever reason he pressed on this one, and even socially engineered me in the process, I think just to see what would happen.

Much worrying and crying ultimately ensued. We were eventually able to recover the account and nothing really terrible happened. But I believe this was a more valuable lesson than all our previous talks about it. And he's now slightly more insulated from this kind of thing in the future.

> What's not an opportunity is locking down the entire world so children can't screw up.

Massively agree. It's also not good to teach children that computers are locked-down things you can't control.

Kids between 2 and 11 years old spend an average of 5/6 hours per day in front of a screen. And kids between 2 and 3 see an average of 25,600 ads a year. This article is not about parenting, it's about regulating the software industry.

I rather view it as limited, and every computer has limits. Including the one's in a traffic light. So for example an air gapped machine has limits which allow you to not worry about the Internet.

While I get what you are saying, claiming it has never been easier is somewhat silly. It was never required in the past. So, as easy as it may be now, it is still harder than many times before.

Worse, as well intentioned and correct as your advice is, you are still many zero days from a hosed machine. Sure, you don't let them download arbitrary apps. Doesn't matter if they visit some sites.

When I was kid in the 80's and 90's, I had unfettered access to my computer. I had video game systems. I had portable video games systems. I ran an adult BBS when I was 13.

There was no controls at all in those times. You still had the option to give your kid a device or not -- same as now. And you can connect that to the Internet or not -- same as now. But now you can actually have much more fine-grained control -- it doesn't have to be all or nothing. But you still have to decide and I don't see why Apple needs to make all the decisions when I have the controls.

> You are still many zero days from a hosed machine.

It's definitely not as easy as you make it sound -- the sky isn't falling that fast or we'd all be screwed. And I block web sites as well.

I was a kid in the same times. Yes, for those of us lucky enough to have access to machines that had good modems (or, well, any modem), some semblance of this was possible. To argue it is at all at the same scale, though, is rather wrong.

The comparison was "it has never been easier." Back then, just don't buy that rather expensive modem and let the kid take up the home phone. Nowadays, it is "don't buy the entry level game system or ubiquitous computing device."

It really is vastly harder nowadays, because of how ubiquitous networked devices are. Can it feel easier? Sure, but I guarantee that most motivated kids can and will outsmart most parental controls used by less than tech savvy parents.

> I had video game systems. I had portable video games systems.

> There was no controls at all in those times.

There was though; you could by design do less with it than a Raspberry Pi with Internet connection.

Its like using vi versus emacs. Neither is better, each have their pros and cons. These (portable) video games systems are akin to vi; they do one specific job really well.

> and he doesn't even own his own i-device yet

you probably don't either... are you an admin? or is Apple the only admin?

I'm of two minds on this.

Fundamentally, my opinion is that Apple (or any device manufacturer) should not be restricted what an end user can or cannot do with a device they own, and that includes restricting what software can be installed. I largely switched away from iOS (I still have an iPad for drawing and reading, but my phone is Android) because I philosophically resent this patronizing approach.

BUT I also think that most of the points in the linked article have merit, and frankly the App Store has become a dumpster of clone apps and scammy pay-to-win games.

To me the obvious solution from a technical point of view would be to allow side-loading and alternative app stores on iOS. If Apple's store were just one way among many to install software on iOS (but the only one enabled out of the box), Apple could and should be much more selective in what they allow in their store, without impacting choice for customers who go looking for it.

It would also be trivial to implement parental controls to block non-Apple sources on kids' phones/school devices/etc.

Of course, Apple would then have a much harder time to justify themselves rent-seeking from pay-to-win apps :troll:

90% of this could be summarized as freemium has made software worse.

But I don't think I like any solutions which involves giving Apple more power to disintermediate developers from users even more.

I consider limiting the kinds of apps that developers can build a free speech issue.

I think making an "Editors Choice Lite" label would help. I.e. that apps can sign up for an optional extra level of vetting to indicate they are free of some of the monetization dark patterns listed in this post.

I'm convinced the app stores would look very different if they supported free trials and version upgrade pricing. Its weird that we've dropped the fundamental distribution features that powered the software and games industry for such a long time.

Isn't the freemium model an extension of the software trials models?

I would not want to limit the apps a developer can build, but I would definitely like to see clear warning labels so that users can filter efficiently

> "No free games or games with In-App Purchases"

This is a great rule. As a father of similarly aged kids (10, 9, 4) this is exactly what I would like to have happen at my house. Unfortunately, I have found games like this difficult to surface on the app store. Is there a decent source for games like this?

Also, Apple needs to think of the impact that the prevalence of these kinds of apps has on their revenue - I spend money on steam, epic, ps4 games etc. mostly because this isn't an issue. (Or is very clearly signposted) But I am unwilling to spend money even on iphone games that are really enjoyed because the antipatterns discussed in this post have made it difficult to trust the vendor. The bottom line is, if I could trust them, I would spend more.

Apple Arcade is exactly what you want[0]. No in-app purchases, Apple picks the games and gives them exclusivity so there's always good quality ones. It's a good deal if you like playing games on the iPad.

0: https://www.apple.com/apple-arcade/

A cynic would say that Apple manufactured the problem, and is now selling the solution.

Yep, companies love to do that.

See Ubisoft and selling EXP boosts so you don't have to grind as much in Assassin's Creed. They decided to make it a grind to encourage you to buy the "solution".

Aside from offering the ability to collect IAP in general I’m not sure what the case against Apple is here. Did they do something specific to incentivize the creation of these kinds of games?

Not really, mostly "the market" happened. For productive applications one could argue that the lack of upgrade pricing and trials has fueled the race to the bottom but this was never really a thing with games (as one could easily have a free demo and a paid full game on the store).

AmazonBasics is also like that. Let scammers on your platform. Then sell a trusted brand that is guaranteed to be scam free.

Not an Apple App Store vendor, so my information is sketchy at best, but it sounds to me like in-app purchases are only a little more complicated than listing something on the app store in the first place. If the money is the same, and the dopamine hit for the latter is greater, of course everyone is going to 'race to the bottom' with in-app purchases.

Apple has not provided any incentive for people to retain customers by any other mechanism than in-app purchases. Not on iOS, and now not on OS X. Strictly speaking, Steam also doesn't have a way to give a discount to people for upgrading, and yet I've bought several sequels at a modest discount because they support bundling and the bundles are prorated.

However, while a bundle of Red Dead Redemption 1 & 2 might not need an explanation, a bundle of Photoshop N and N+1 is only good for giving a discount for upgrades.

If Apple is interested in turning back this Doom Clock, then support for bundling, and taking a smaller cut of app purchases than in-app purchases would, I think, function as a carrot and stick combination.

I think I've heard some developers of popular apps which have done this who say it's a pain to support the users who do not understand this is for upgrading and then get confused which app to use.

The fact that they can't handle refunds also does not help.

They really should just support paid upgrades. Just provide a framework/system for it and make it a normal thing.

Bundles have been a thing on App Store for years.

Like I said, my information is spotty, but good to know, thanks. Looks like they also have pro-rated bundles (at the same time or later, I can't discern).

However, a search suggests that this feature was announced 2 years ago next month. Which is one of those grey areas where advertisers say "hundreds" and the potential customer thinks, "347" whereas the advertiser means "147".

So, you're right, and thank you for the update, but also I'm keeping an eye on you...

I believe it’s about 2 years on the MAS, but on iOS, it’s been a thing for 6 years: https://appleinsider.com/articles/14/09/18/save-money-with-n...

With the kids having remote learning, the school district has them playing this game called Prodigy. It has a really insidious "premium" model that it is constantly throwing up in front of my kids. New dance moves, costumes, all things kids want. I'm tempted to complain about it, the district shouldn't be using apps that push crap like this.

It makes me furious that this kind of dynamic is introduced to a digital learning space at all.

Why delineate between the haves and the have nots? Between the kids with access to disposable parental income and the kids that don't? Why make that part of online life of children at all?

Because there is money to be made, and leaving it on the table is just downright unamerican


Not trying to convince you otherwise, but rather maybe explain some of the rationale for prodigy using the freemium model.

Education is a hard market to break into and build adoption of a new product. Budgets are very constrained or virtually nonexistent... in America some teachers even have to purchase classroom supplies or tools with their own wages.

With that in mind (and maybe other reasons that I do not know), Prodigy took the decision to offer their service to schools and teachers at no cost, otherwise it would’ve been much more difficult to build adoption in that market. It’s very hard to convince teachers, schools and boards to allocate budget on a new initiative, when they are already spread so thin.

Now to build a service like prodigy, it takes game artists and developers to build the game, web developers to build the website and teacher dashboards, teachers to build the prodigy math curriculum, and then all the supporting teams too; data scientists, product owners, testers, operations, etc.

They either need some sort of investment or revenue stream to make the company run; and this is where they adopted a freemium model.

What about Apple Arcade? It's not free, but Apple guarantees that none of the games in it have ads and a single subscription can be shared through Family Sharing.

All these comments suggesting Apple Arcade make me sad that Apple chose to fix their problem with garbage store discoverability with a subscription games service rather than you know, actually fixing the garbage discoverability problem.

Apple Arcade should have a good range of games for your kids. No IAPs, no up-selling. It's worth the money for my family.

We have Apple Arcade for our family as well, but I do wish they had more games for younger children. My little ones (4 & 6) enjoy Crossy Castle, but that is really the only age appropriate game for them.

In-app purchases are important for non-gaming apps like audio book stores, ebook stores, and anything that has pay-as-you-go content.... and anything with a free trial like VPN apps which give you a free week tor whatever before billing you monthly.

This post should be evangelized like gospel! We MUST make App Store rules _even_ stricter. I hadn't thought about the nefarious patterns particularly targeted towards kids apps until I read this.

Heck, after hearing about Zoom's debacle with the Facebook SDK, I feel like Apple should make it impossible for 3rd party devs to use non-Apple approved SDKs.

but sigh, I know I'm afraid this viewpoint is not shared by many in the developer world.

I don't think many people are against prohibiting and/or restricting the use of dark patterns, and trying to push back on absolutely horrific user experiences. I don't think anyone is arguing that apps should be able to target and trick children into spending money, especially with the current "The walled-garden is to ensure everything is safe" argument.

There is a difference between "Your app doesn't exactly follow our branding rules and you have a link that goes to a non-app web page", and "Your app is specifically designed to trick people into spending money and to spy on children".

Or, you can have multiple app stores and kid-friendly app stores will specially curate apps to make sure there is no adult content, or other unwanted features. We already do this with a wide variety of physical goods.

Apple doesn't get the source code for the App anyway, so a third party can perform the same type of automated + manual review that Apple does. Its time to open up the app store to competition. As a consumer, if you don't trust a particular app store, great, don't use it.

Epic for example is only going to allow Fortnite to be on their store. So how you are going to convince kids to use only specific app stores?

And then if Apple is forced to regulate what is and isn't "kid-friendly" then isn't that just opening them up to the same criticism they have right now.

There are several ways to approach the curation/kid-friendly problem. You can have simple curation apps (which are banned in the current appstore AFAIK) that are not full stores but simply point to an app store (apple or non-apple). You can have websites that link to apps that have been vetted. On the iOS side, there could be a specific kid-mode that prevents certain APIs to be used. I'm thinking no video, audio, location/tracking services, no ads (unless the ad-network takes responsibility), etc.

Apple won't brand any particular app-store as kid-friendly, or otherwise endorse them.

Another solution is for kids to have an account which is restricted in which app stores it can install from, or simply can't install any new apps. Then the kid can't install Fortnite. But the kid can go to the parent and have the parent install Fortnite, if that's what the parent wants.

Why won't anyone think of the children and just ban every single thing that might make their parents work!

That’s not really a fair argument. Parents have been over worked for decades. But 30, 20, even 10 years ago (first iPad was released 10 years ago!) you couldn’t accidentally buy digital rubbish.

The kids sat in front of a TV and you had to beg your parents for toys.

Now toddlers can discover things for themselves and frankly a lot of content for kids is trash. We haven’t caught up with how to deal with this.

The author still wants Apple to ban software for everyone on the whole world - Americans, Indians, young people, old people just to conform to their ideas of what their children are supposed to consume. Whole world and everyone.

They're not calling for a separate play store, restricted subsection - but they want every single person to be limited so they don't have to be careful about what exactly their child might accidentally download.

This is the epitome of the worst "think of the children" argument.

FYI: This is how TV works in Europe. Ads are banned during children programs, early morning before school and evening after school.

Sometimes a blanket ban is a good thing.

You deal with this by not giving your one-year old an iPad.

Yeah! Sit them down in front of a TV to watch reruns of cartoons or give them a magazine to read both full of ads for toys like the good ole days!

They could gasp play with other things like legos or drawing/construction. My twin girls in gradeschool love building stuff, roleplay and make believe.

Honestly that’s what I used to do as a kid when stuck indoors (which is more prevalent these days)

>But 30, 20, even 10 years ago (first iPad was released 10 years ago!) you couldn’t accidentally buy digital rubbish.

That's not true - I clearly remember those TV telenovelas arround here having a paid line where you could get a summary of next episode and the number advertised during the show. The only people I ever heard about calling the service was kids racking up parents phone bills.

When I was a kid I found a very sketchy game on the teletext where you had to repeatedly call some phone line. My parents ended up with a 600 bucks phone bill.

I also repeatedly fell for weird "order this set of dinosaur cards for free (but then it's an ongoing subscription)" kinds of scams.

All of that stuff was annoying. And my parents ended up taking appropriate measures (blocking paid phone numbers, or just talking to me, for example). Nobody died because of it.

Kids have always been good targets for scams. Nothing new under the sun.

You were lucky that you parents were well off. There are many families what live paycheck to paycheck and wouldn't be able to feed the children after they lost 600 bucks in a phone scam.

sure, that's a valid point (although, in the worst case, we do have social security nets over here). the point is more that kids falling for scams is nothing new.

I’ve seen those dodgy subscription services, but never in relation to anything I was actually interested in as a kid. Maybe they were not as prevalent where I grew up.

But now, everyone with an iPad or smartphone is a target. That’s new.


> You have me wondering how many false flag conversations I've read where an Android developer argues that the Apple App store's rules should be more byzantine in order to confound 'the enemy'.

None. Most app developers target both stores and those that target one or the other do so for financial reasons not fanboy reasons. No app developer is going to waste time trying to make an App Store worse. They are too likely to need that other store to be functioning properly on their next project.


I just got charged 0.30£ by Niantic, the publisher of Pokemon Go, to verify my age during the user registration process. The payment was initiated from the iOS app and done through a web form. No IAP.

Now I can only hope Niantic doesn't charge me for something my kids do in the game.

This is exactly the kind of thing I fully expect Apple to protect me from.

Niantic has a legal requirement to verify that a legal guardian has allowed a child to have an account.

To do so, they use credit card verification, a commonly-accepted way to verify an of-age user that satisfies COPPA/similar requirements. Credit card verification generally works by placing a small authorization charge that is shortly refunded. This is explained here: https://parents.nianticlabs.com/faq/

There are a variety of reasons they likely can't use IAP for this. Two I can think of are that (a) IAP may not be sufficient enough for COPPA, if e.g. a parent has allowed their child to make purchases using a gift card balance, and (b) they likely have no easy automated way to refund this fee if handled through IAP.

I know the reasons and the means. I still don't like it. Apple already has my credit card number, so they should provide a better way to do this safely & take the 30% percent cut.

Solution: don't let your kids use internet-connected devices until they are of the age where they are capable of independent thought. Making App Store stricter won't fix anything.

Are adults truly capable of independent thought either? For a lot of people, Facebook is extremely difficult to avoid, even if they disagree with its privacy practices. Apple is in a unique position to use its regulatory power to force companies like Facebook and mobile game developers to follow reasonable privacy and advertising practices. Maybe this is the job of the government, but it seems like an acceptable practice from Apple so long as it's not used in an anticompetitive manner (which the 30% cut arguably is).

Let's not compare the adults with children, because the author literally gave his ipad to his one year old as per his own words.

Legit. Buy these kids a nintendo console and let them play with something designed for kids. You get what you pay for. I guess I do get where they are coming from where the kids want to play multi player games their friends are playing.

The whole article hinges on this "we need to protect our children!" argument, but I'm baffled that anyone would think it's a good idea to give your one-year old an iPad.

Technology is a tool. It is dangerous precisely because it is powerful. Don't give technology to people who are not responsible enough to understand this, instead of trying to restrict its power for those people who can actually deal with it. I hate how the big tech companies continue to infantilise their users.

Incidentally, is it just me, or does it seem that Americans are obsessed with trying to protect their children from all possible harm?

Americans and Brits have always been obsessed with trying to protect their children, from experience. Mainland Europe is slowly joining the bandwagon too, what with all the "Let's think about the children" talk, which never was much of an issue 10-20 years back. The wealthier folks of East Asia and Latin America behave similarly to Americans, while the not so wealthy take a totally hands-off approach, perhaps being able to do so because kids are already brought up to be wary of ads and scammy marketing. The situation is reversed in the Middle East, where wealthy parents take a hands-off approach to raising children, relying on one or more nannies, while less affluent parents aggressively monitor content (largely to prevent kids from vulgar content or hidden monetary charges).

Disclaimer: these are all just my honest observations, not assertions.

This is totally a tangent now and not related to the original topic anymore, but I'm just curious: is it only a trope from movies and TV shows or are American parents really so afraid of their teenage kids having sex? Because, apart from maybe very religious families, I've never seen this to be that much of an issue where I grew up (Western Europe), people just know that teenagers are going to have sex.

I'm not American, hence can't speak for them, but I think it has a lot to do with America's religious roots in orthodox Protestantism and largely Catholic immigration.

I have sympathy for his situation; I doubt there are many parents in 2020 who aren't struggling with these issues. I certain have and continue to every day. The difference between me and Miguel is I don't expect or want Apple to fix my parenting problems.

Everybody wants a different set of App Store rules. The problem is that there is only one App Store and one company choosing the rules. With competing App Stores (e.g. “Great for Kids Store”, “Adults Only Store”) we’d have freedom of choice instead of single corporate rule.

Imagine if one company set the rules for allowable websites. What would (wouldn’t) they ban?

Instead the Web is wonderfully open and parents, schools, individuals, even nations can choose configurable filters to have a web that aligns with their values.

These are all excellent (and were needed just as much literally 10 years ago but better late than never).

I would greatly expand the last point on filters: I want lots of knobs so that I can permanently banish from view all the schemes that I hate. It would instantly make the Store much more valuable to me. Incidentally it would also increase value for store-runners, since I would actually start buying things again instead of closing the Store in disgust because I couldn’t find anything I wanted after an hour of scrolling through trash.

What filters (knobs) would you always disable?

Would you prefer that Apple reject all apps that match your list from the app store altogether, instead of offering those specific ones as search filters?

Well as one specific example...

On the Mac App Store, you can’t even initiate a search in a category; you must start with text. From there, you can select Filters; the only price options are “Any” or ”Free” (ridiculous), the only categories are extremely broad things like “Games” (yes, just that). So I want to be able to say things like “Search -> Games -> Puzzles”, with checkboxes like “No In-App Purchases”. That is a simple query but you’d go crazy trying to compose that list with the current Store.

Worse, existing groups do not represent apps faithfully. A store link that says “See All” really means “see a list of about 12 things that random Apple employees threw together using $UNKNOWN_CRITERIA, and we refuse to show you anything else on the store that certainly belongs in this category”. So I want a list to actually have the apps for sale in that category, not something from Apple’s “experts”.

As far as banishing apps...sometimes I just want to search more quickly but there are definitely apps that I think have no right to exist (like trivial apps with absurd subscription prices designed to scam people, or games with built-in massive in-app purchases that are repeatable).

Not OP, but IMO:

Apps that are pay-to-play but are not 100% upfront about it should either be properly labelled as a demo or rejected. (Of course, before that we need a proper demo mode for freemium apps). I would disable for kids but not for me.

Ads are ok, but apps with ads should be properly labeled and there should be a way to avoid seeing those apps in the store. And ads include the "install chains", of course. I would 100% disable those for me and for the kids.

Notification spam should be dealt with the same way we deal with email spam: transactional is ok, for unsolicited marketing messages there should be a way to permanently unsubscribing. And mislabeling marketing as transactional should be grounds for rejection. I wouldn't ever accept marketing myself or allow kids to receive.

Privacy violations should be grounds for rejection, period.

I agree. So, rather than app store review filters, consider these proposed "App Store Review Guidelines", that I attempted to phrase in ASRG tone:

- Games should not charge money for progress or performance. For example, games that introduce slowdowns for non-paying players or that restrict the number of plays per day for free players will be rejected.

- Games that repeatedly show advertisements must not interrupt gameplay to do so and must offer an appropriately-priced in-app purchase to disable them. For example, modal dialogs and inappropriately expensive subscriptions will be rejected.

Note that I didn't try to rewrite Notification spam or Privacy, because those are a reporting problem that has to be solved at the iOS level. The guidelines are already hostile to misrepresentation of such things, and I think it would be better for iOS to offer "This app sends inappropriate notifications" and "This app violates my privacy" reporting mechanisms somehow.

I also have my own bone to pick here:

- Games must not use in-app purchases for gambling or other chance-based rewards. All items shown as available in a given purchase must be provided at time of purchase.

Edit: I'll cop - I kinda very quickly skim read the article before posting this, now that I've read it I realize the author was arguing for better policing of in app purchases and the like, rather than content per se. Sorry - I'll leave this up because it feels like a useful addition to a different, but adjacent conversation anyway. Also my point about consistency before strictness still applies.

Technological filtering is not the solution to raising your kids. If you're worried about them seeing harmful content you can't be giving them unsupervised access to a general computing device.

Imagine how crippled the iDevice experience would have to be to stop kids from accessing anything questionable - it's not tenable to fix this problem just via app store reviews. However I can imagine a password protected browser and appstore toggle option being useful - then you could have a bunch of parent vetted games and learning stuff available, without giving the kids access to anything you don't know about while they're not supervised.

Also question whether you're doing more harm than good - I suspect I would not have followed the lucrative software dev career path that I have if my parents had heavily policed my "screen time" and internet access.

And on AppStore Reviews - they can't be made stricter unless they're also made more consistent. The current problem that people complain about isn't so much that they're too strict, it's that the rules are almost a black box and are not applied consistently.

While I don't entirely disagree with some of the ideas presented here (Primarily what IAP are meant for in an app) I think this whole thing reads rather poorly.

It boggles the mind that the author writes that they trust both Google and Apple to keep the platform safe but then goes on to decry shitty F2P applications designed to exploit you. Google has a pretty high-profile incidence of failing to catch malicious apps and Apple is not immune.

That said, the article reads somewhat as old man yells at cloud. There is certainly a ton of low-hanging fruit in the app store designed to extract maximum value of out of whales. There are also parental controls on an iPad. Moreso, I don't think it's healthy to allow your one-year old to plop down in front of an iPad and expect Daddy Apple to know what's best for them.

Apple is not your child's parent, you are. There is definitely an amount of social pressure on children of a certain age to have access and familiarity with certain things (Fortnite, currently) that allow them social cache, but your one-year old is not privy to this and you made the choice to give them an iPad.

My personal criticisms of the Apple App review process are much more pointedly centered around the unevenness in enforcement. Certain big players are afforded leeway that smaller players are not and it's gross. I appreciate the fact that a human is looped into the app review process unlike the Play store which is full of dramatically more garbage, but Apple should enforce their standards more evenly.

The author has given an iPad to a one year old, and even taught them (read: nudged them into) getting adicted into phone games. This is terrible parenting.

This article is not about parenting or restricting the use of mobile devices, it's about regulating the software industry. For example: what Apple should/shouldn't allow developers to do when creating a game.

It's very easy to loose track of the real problem, which is technology. Kids between 2 and 11, like it or not, spend an average of 5/6 hours per day in front of a screen and see an average of 25,600 ads a year.

The solution is not to remove technology from the equation, but to regulate it.

Sort of agree with the author, but oh well, the world is not perfect and by trying to make it perfect, you're stealing away from people who do not want to live in a perfect world. There is a room for everyone.

To instill good taste in my kids, I buy quality, well-designed and well-developed games. It's just that simple ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

> It’s just that simple

That’s an awfully simple view of the world. And it’s just not feasible. Even games that are well done have these anti patterns. For example, my kids have been playing “Among us” a lot with their friends. On iOS at least, this is a free game that shows ads to continue. Not playing the game was not really a good option for them from a social perspective.

Thankfully, there is an in app purchase to remove the ads.

But this is to illustrate that even “good” apps still sometimes have these dark patterns.

Oh, it's totally feasible–simplicity of the world is quite a subjective thing.

> But this is to illustrate that even “good” apps still sometimes have these dark patterns.

I just showed "Among us" to my 6-year old and he said he doesn't like it, whereas Journey [0], LEGO Batman [1] or The Gardens Between [2] (the games he is playing these days) is something he prefers more. I totally understand the "social perspective" moment you mentioned, it's a super important part of a child's life, but I still kinda stand on my previous idea, because instilling good taste is something that not only affects your own kids, but also the social circle they interact with. I get that even "good taste" is a subjective thing, but hey, all Wikipedia roads lead to Philosophy :)

[0] https://apps.apple.com/us/app/journey/id1445593893

[1] https://apps.apple.com/us/app/lego-batman-dc-super-heroes/id...

[2] https://apps.apple.com/us/app/the-gardens-between/id13719655...

> AppStore reviews are too lax and they should be much stricter

> I have kids aged 10, 7 and 4

So you want to protect your children because you can’t parent effectively? And you get to decide the criteria for approved apps with your short list of acceptable financial transactions?

What about grown ups who have the ability to delay gratification and who can police themselves? Why should your rules for children affect me? (And by the way, I also have small children, but I know how to parent their screen time)

This is another “save the children!” fire alarm. Save your own children, don’t push it on Apple to parent them.

I’m glad you don’t have any power over my world.

This is a bizarre comment, because Google and Apple themselves were the ones to heavily push for 99c / free apps. I worked at a high profile game developer attempting to make premium mobile games at the very start of the lifecycle; no microtransactions, just an up front cost. Google told us they were very, very unlikely to feature games that were above $5 in price.

Why do your young children have phones / iPads? I’ve seen what these do to kids and their behavior and it’s awful. The real problem here is turning to an adult connectivity device to substitute for other forms of creativity or parenting. Give your kids some books and toys and keep them away from anything with apps.

But that would require more reviewers, and big tech's whole existence seems to rely on hiring as few people as possible

The solution here is a free market approach. Apple or someone else can be a more strict gatekeeper for people who want that type of service, while users who what a more laissez-faire marketplace can go through some additional hassle to install a 3rd party app store without Apple support.

This list is interesting because I've seen Apple pull at least one of these. The "Watch and ad to continue" piece has hit me in Music when trying to play music I own. It's not a video, but it's intrusive.

When a company sides with the consumer, the developers complain (HN crowd). When developers are given free access (side loading, jailbreaking), the consumers suffer (most times without knowing).

I only see one sided opinions from Developers here on HN. What happened to your sense of understand that capitalism ensures that companies will do every bit to milk privacy and money from the customers by hook or by crook. Do you not realize this or refuse to accept? Just look at what LinkedIn app on iPhone was doing until Apple decided to alert the user when it uses the clipboard.

Apple isn't doing this out of charity. Theyre doubling down on software + hardware security because that's their market differentiation from the rest of the Ad-tech horror show.

Vast number of actions Apple takes are siding the with the consumer. I also want my own device to be hackable, but iPhone is no small toy. It has my entire life on it. As a consumer, I pay the Apple tax so I am not constantly worrying about security and privacy. As a hacker, I want to be able to run Doom on my iPhone. Why is one side so difficult to understand? I am all for pushing Apple to make their devices repairable, more eco friendly, cheaper, better, highly secure, hackable upon concent, but gosh - it's like an article after article here bashing Apple without any balanced form of discussion. Selling a device that contains your entire life to millions of people is very different from selling a linux box to a bunch of hackers. You should realize both sides of the coin and debate.

How do consumers suffer from an open system? Most people I know have androids and are perfectly happy with them. Nobody has accidentally downloaded an app and had their phone compromised.

The fault is always with the parent that gives a child an iPad or iPhone. Don't blame your laziness on app stores. Children grow up fine (better?) without those devices anyway. We all did so far. Grow a pair.

None of these are New. Those problem has been there for at least 5 - 6 years. And not only just parents, but developers and users complaining.

On one hand, Apple is acting like a console maker, like Sony Playstation and Nintendo, collecting 30% from gaming. Which is fair enough for console. On the other hand there are zero quality control on the games going into App Store like other Console platform. Other than making sure their Apps uses IAP and Apple Payment system.

Apple will tell you how millions of their customers go to their store for their favourite Apps.

You see, this is correct except customers dont have anywhere to go for Apps. It implies in most peoples mind, where App Store attract foot traffic like in High Street Retail Store, when App Store is the only store in the high street.

It also implies ( or not ) people are discovering Apps within App Store. As with retail store you go into shopping with discovery pattern. But App Discover hasn't been happening in App Stores for years. Which means App Store is more like a warehouse. A regulated, curated, efficient warehouse where it is the only place you can get anything if you live in the "Apple" State.

The whole reason why Apple doesn't tighten any of these Dark Pattern is because it strikes at the very foundation of the App Store profits and revenue engine. Estimated 80% of App Store Revenue are from Gaming. Most of them are IAP. We are talking about potentially 10 billion annual raw profit at stake.

But In my view, none of the above are a problem on their own.

( Skip the part below if you dont want any negativity. It is rant-ish. )

What I have problem with is when Apple start telling me how much they love their customers, and how great their App Store is. And how they enrich people's live. How millions of customers go to their favourite Apps Store ( Remember there is only one App Store? ) App Store's problem has been there for years, they knew about the discovery in App Store problem, that is including Searching which in 2020 Apple cant make App Store searching actually work with decent accuracy. No longer can you use Google has the best search engine as excuses as in the mid 2010s, Searching is pretty much a solved problem, especially at the relatively small scale of App Store, and much more so for Apple with hundreds of billions in the bank. And yet what did they do? They introduced placement Ads on App Store. ( Another Rent seeking profit machine )

Adding in the discovery of lying by omission or spinning in the Apple vs Qualcomm case, It is clear Tim Cook's Apple isn't about the "best product" as Steve Jobs will put it. But extracting maximum profits and value from its customers at the expense of user experience ( App Store and Apple Retail) and product excellence ( MacBook Keyboard [1] ). Along with the new push of Services Revenue with Apple Care+ and increasing KPI percentage of Genius Bar employees on AppleCare / new Product sold from Apple Retail Store ( Not sure if this is the case in US ). And that is why you see all quote for any MBP repair are now trending towards new MBP pricing. No longer is Apple Retail their to best serve its customers. All of these are extracting profits just like any other companies.

Again none of these would have mattered if it was from any other company. But once you start placing the company being Good and love, I am going to raise the bar much higher, especially for Apple. And there are a lot hypocrisy.

[1] People may want to check the 2nd hand price of Pre 2015 MBP and Post 2015 MBP. I think the market has a clear voice in which is worth more and more reliable. Not just the Keyboard but generally the whole package.


I certainly agree that giving very young children unsupervised access to an internet connected device is probably a bad idea. However I question your classification of it being "addictive" and of that being the worst part.

Imo playing around on a tablet is only addictive in the same way that reading a good book or playing a good video game is "addictive" - i.e. you're having fun, and you want to keep doing it because it's fun.

Of course there's specific apps you can download that are fine tuned to actually be "addictive" through randomization and monetization strategies. But claiming that the whole device is bad because some bad things exist on it seems wrong to me. There's thousands of hours of beneficial, educational, non exploitative fun to be had with a tablet/laptop/phone.

I'd be much more concerned about my kids talking to dodgy people in chat apps, or using my credit card without realizing (or with realizing), or accessing porn or something.

Maybe some games on a tablet are not fun like reading a good book but rather fun like a slot machine.

If you reread my comment I did mention that.

> Don't listen to me if you want, just ask Steve Jobs.

Jobs is not someone I would take physical or mental health advice from even if he was around to give it.

Let me preface saying I have the perception Apple is already doing better than Google in this regard (which contains flat out malware in Play Store). I don't use Play Store to find anything via the Play Store; I get linked to the Play Store by a third party.

The way I see it, it is the way it is due to the inequality in the world, and because we dislike paying directly for something. It doesn't make sense for a developer in India to ask 10 USD for an application when only middle and upper class people in USA can afford it. Hence, you get alternative methods of earning money such as IAP (which makes it less clear you spend money), currency tokens (idem), advertisement (stealing the user's time; imagine you'd be forced to solve captcha's for other people during this time? Having your CPU time used for mining?), tracking ("if they don't wanna pay, I'll just use their PII. Cheapskates!"), malware (idem), ...

Sure, something like GDPR might protect EU people from some of the above. What are they going to do in above example, going after developer from India? Of course not. Those who lay low are getting away with it, and the wheels of justice grind slowly.

Perhaps the parent should screen the application or game before allowing the kid to use it. Read a review site for games for children. Check out the age requirement. Learn what your kids likes and dislikes. And then, buy the (virtual) present for them.

I'll be using my Pocketsprite (portable game emulator) to install games appropriate for the age of my kid. Plus, its locked down as well, without some kind of store on it because it has no direct Internet connection. Its actually why I bought it specifically. Graphically these games might be less good, but Tetris is at its core still Tetris, looks be damned. The time before the Internet was the status quo has its charms. I've also selected a bunch of games on Steam which I regard as appropriate. Of course, she's free to dislike any of these, including Tetris (she already loves Duplo though).

We have so much choice though. Just open Netflix right now. There's no way you can watch all that. Same with Steam, no way you can play all that. Same with screening that content. Back in the days, on my Gameboy I only had a couple of games. Less choice made the things I did own more precious. Anyway, hence I'd say curate a couple of good choices (games, movies, series, toys, ...). There's no way you'll find the best of the best; they just gotta be good enough for develop and/or enjoy themselves.

Don’t show Windows to the author of this article or they will get a stroke.

lol. Do you even know who Miguel de Icaza is?

His credentials just make this complaint seem even more weird.

I also think there is a mismatch. I mean he was a free software advocate and an AppStore is a curated repository in the end. Whether that is free software or not is a different discussion. The sandbox and the walled garden is a different story. And there is the conflict.

However, I share the opinion that he generally buys into the Apple philosophy of things. And, he is a family father with a different perspective (they call that diversity).

To be fair, he's been very heavy-handed with his support for Apple through any and all criticism. I follow him on Twitter and, from the tweets of his that I have read, he's defended Apple every single time they have appeared in the news, irrespective of circumstance or evidence. He is definitely not an objective and unbiased source when it comes to Apple.

Just because he is a well-known individual, and is incredibly intelligent, does not mean that every single opinion that he holds is necessarily superior (which is why an appeal to authority is a logical fallacy).

All of that being said, I really don't understand the point of the root comment.

You can download apps on Windows from anywhere and there is no sandboxing.

You are comparing tomatoes with potatoes. 1) Kids use the iPad/iPhone as gaming console, and 2) parents don't give their young kids a Dell laptop to play Talking Tom Cat. So your interpretation of the problem is not realistic and therefore incorrect.

Kids always played online browser games, flash games, downloadable games and similar stuff, and some of them still do. The only difference is that there is a higher probability now that technologically illiterate parents accidentally give their kid an access to their credit card.

Classic case of "Don't you know who I am ?"

I am 100% in agreement with the author. I happily pay Apple a premium to keep my devices private, secure and for their thoughtful curated user experience.

Epic et al can f* off

I support most of the requirements listed in this article, in addition to removing the 30% cut. I do not support third-party app stores on iOS because I believe that the benefits of increased consumer choice in that regard do not outweigh the concerns of allowing larger companies with significant app ecosystems (or governments) to make their own app stores with different, potentially user-hostile or privacy-compromising apps.

No equivalent of something like F-Droid on iOS makes it a no-go in all circumstances. I trust F-Droid far more than I'd trust Apple or Google.

No opportunity to replace things like the system browser on iOS makes it a no-go in all circumstances. I want my device to run software I approved, I want to be able to choose important system components like the web renderer, I want to be able to install an ingress/egress firewall, I want to be able to build software for the device without needing some signing key from the vendor. I want to be able to build software for the device on any of the devices I use which have the required memory, CPU and build infrastructure. This build infrastructure should not be dependent on a single closed operating system since I don't run closed operating systems.

The simple conclusion here is that iOS is not for me nor for those who share my preferences.

Definitely user-hostile app stores are better than potentially user-hostile?

That seems like a loaded question.

If third-party app stores are allowed, companies like Epic or Facebook might just make their own app stores (or "launchers"), like they can on Windows. Governments could disallow the App Store and instead use a country-specific app store with apps that compromise privacy and include other user-hostile behavior. While it's arguably the government's responsibility to legislate and enforce privacy regulations, Apple seems to be much better at this than I would trust a government to be. Having the single App Store on iOS devices is easier, more intuitive, less susceptible to malware (and it's easier to remove malware that gets through), less susceptible to extreme government intervention, and better at protecting user privacy.

By using an Apple device, you trust Apple. They design the hardware (including the processor and Secure Enclave), write the software, and run iCloud. Trusting other companies to build their own app stores in a privacy-preserving and user-friendly manner—especially when their business model involves selling user data—seems decidedly user-hostile.

>Trusting other companies to build their own app stores in a privacy-preserving and user-friendly manner

Which app store is "privacy-preserving and user-friendly" ? None of the two big ones fit either. Sure you could argue one might be better than a Facebook made one but that doesn't mean they are good or uphold privacy.

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