Apple: No Location-based Ads for Non Location-based Apps -- Controversy de Jour?

Screen shot 2010-02-05 at 8.32.17 AM

Apple's iPhone Developer News feed has posted a note saying developers should enhance their App Store apps with Core Location... but not if they just want to use it to serve up location-based ads. Of course, this has set off yet another round of conspiracy theories and Apple accusations. Here's what Apple had to say:

The Core Location framework allows you to build applications which know where your users are and can deliver information based on their location, such as local weather, nearby restaurants, ATMs, and other location-based information.

If you build your application with features based on a user's location, make sure these features provide beneficial information. If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user's location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store.

Since Apple bought mobile advertiser Quattro Wireless and said they were going to provide a seamless way for developers to earn advertising revenue, especially for free apps, chatter on the web has it the above is Apple's way of locking out the competition in general, and Google-owned AdMob in specific.

And why not? Just a few days ago there was rampant speculation Apple was forcing Stanza to remove USB sharing to punish owner Amazon and get all anti-competitive due to their upcoming iBooks app. Turns out, however, Stanza was using a private API and misusing the camera roll to store eBooks instead of the image files it's meant for.

Okay sure, maybe Apple is getting ready to be anti-competitive about advertising, and risk a ton of negative developer reaction and potential investigation, or maybe Quattro Wireless-powered apps will likewise have to make sure advertising isn't the primary purpose of location-aware apps either. Maybe our location information is a fairly important piece of data and using it because we want to find a restaurant or friend is preferable to it being used because someone else wants to serve us an ad.

So yes, this could be a nefarious plot for unfair competition or it could just be Apple's policy on all location-based advertising going forward -- if you want to use GPS and CoreLocation, make sure the primary reason is for the user, not for the ads.

TiPb will keep an eye on this as it develops, but let us know your thoughts!

[Thanks to Fassy for the tip!]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 13 comments. Add yours.

TumnusMr says:

Sounds quite reasonable to me. Apps that have nothing to do with my physical location shouldn't be using my iPhone's GPS period.
I imagine it has been leading to support calls when a random ad-supported app asked an iPhone user if it can use their current location. I know it confused me the first time I saw that and the app had nothing to do with location based services.

Dyvim says:

Sound reasonable to me too. I don't want apps burning my battery up getting location information just to serve up ads for me. Now, if I'm in an app that needs to know my location (like Yelp! or GPS or something), then I'm ok with that assuming it's an ad-supported (i.e. free) app.

frog says:

I think it's a good move, and it's based purely on giving end users some peace of mind IMO.
Well done Apple!
Google wouldn't have the balls to do this, they'll totally sell out on a users privacy to earn more ad revenue!

Al says:

This is a huge win for users! My free game doesn't need to know where I'm at!

Rene Ritchie says:

Thanks Alex, my Spanish is horrible...

Brian says:

I agree with the other commenters sentiments. I think this is an excellent win for users. Obviously not so much for advertisers, but honestly how often has anybody seen a location aware ad that does anything more than say there are singles in your city that want to meet you? There is absolutely no need for location aware ads in apps that aren't already giving location sensitive information.

dev says:

@Brian
You are missing the point. Apps that already use location sensitive information are banned from using it for advertising.
@MrC
This does nothing to prevent apps from collecting your location data. Nothing.
@frog
This has zero to do with peace of mind for users. Apple BOUGHT AN ENTIRE COMPANY whose entire purpose was to make what they forbid third parties to do. Apple has patented locking OS features while advertisements run. This is not to give peace of mind to users; this is to squish any competitors until Apple gets their own play into production, at which point this feature will magically be made available again -- but only if you go through the Apple network.
This is just more Apple being worse than Microsoft in their own garden.

Rene Ritchie says:

@Dev: If Apple's Quattro based ad platform comes out without this restriction, that's when it will be anti-competitive. The current wording says primarily, it doesn't say not at all. If Quattro's solution plays by the same rules, there's no issue, right? If it doesn't, then Apple will have a problem.
And that patent is silly. It reminds me of the hype surrounding TPM and Microsoft's old ad-based Windows patents. It's a rights claim. 99% of that stuff never gets surfaced, and if Apple really surfaced that patent in a consumer product, I'm betting most of us would choose not to use that product.
There's no "Force users to use our ad product" patent, is there?
All big companies can't help but be evil. Their interests generally don't coincide with customers'. That said, there's just so many zany conspiracy theories we can put up with, so until there's smoke with the fire, it's just FUD.

TumnusMr says:

@Dev: iPhone apps cannot access GPS data without the explicit acceptance from the user.
The first time an app tries to access the GPS components the iPhone OS pops up a message asking if this is ok. If the user says no then the app does not get access to your location data.
This isn't so much about privacy as it is using the GPS unecessarily and also worrying average users that they might have downloaded a virus or similar when their app that has nothing to do with location asks to use their location.
The news from Apple does not mention any specific ad service so any similar location based ads from Quattro are presumably equally banned.

Lady Kaede says:

Agree with Rene. But I am curious as to how Apple will make use of Quattro to help developers of free apps get revenue; making use of location data would seem a natural component of a kit/service they may be preparing.
Don't much like the word 'evil' being levelled at corps or people (or used in corporate mottoes for that matter) - I could say 'not being evil' means providing utility to customers and value to shareholders; and from a corporarte POV it does. I guess if your customers are military contractors and shareholder value is tied to the lethality of your product it gets more complicated, but neither Apple nor Google are anywhere near that category.

DBH / Talking New Media says:

This was one of the better posts so far on this issue. Most posts have been hysterical takes on an issue that may be more complex than they realize.
For those against location-based-advertising let me remind you how postive the feature could be and why Apple shouldn't ban it -- though they may want to limit it to legitimate uses. Take, for example, an app for a local newspaper. They may want to use core location to make sure you are served "local" news (with the standard opt-in warning many apps already have). Then, they can offer a map that shows you local merchants -- complete with local ads. I see nothing objectionable about this since you want that local content and you want those local merchant ads, otherwise why download the app?
If Apple bans this type of usage, it is a sign that they want to go into this market themselves. I think that at that point Apple could run into some trouble from the Feds who might want to take the side of the local media companies for both consumer and political reasons. Apple should be very careful here.

kbduvall says:

I totally support Apples move on this.
I have nothing against location based advertising ... if it were done right. The fact is, I rarely see any ads relevant to my location whenever an app is providing "location based" advertising. Most of the ads I see are, as @Brian said, "Find sexy singles in your area", or an ad for a product/company that is nation or world wide and has no need for my location.
I have yet to see an ad that is actually relevant to my location. I've never seen an ad for a local merchant, bar, restaurant, or any other local business.
All that really ends up happening is they collect my location and push me some generic ad that could have been displayed without my location information. Using my location information to replace the text of the ad from "Find singles near you" to "Find singles in Atlanta" is not, in my opinion, a legitimate "location based" ad.
Until I know for sure that an app and/or an advertising company isn't using my location improperly, I'd rather not give them my location if it's not going to provide me a tangible benefit.
I'm far from a conspiracy theorist, but the fact remains that if we do not defend out rights, we forfeit them.
I'd rather not let every app/company and their mothers know exactly where I am at all times if it's not going to provide something useful in return.