Dropbox SDK technically violates App Store policy, causes Dropbox integrated apps to be rejected

Dropbox SDK technically violates App Store policy, causing Dropbox integrated apps to be rejected

Apple is currently rejecting apps that use the Dropbox SDK to provide integration with the popular cloud storage solution. The reason for the rejections is apparently that, under a specific but not inevitable set of circumstances, someone using an app with Dropbox integration could end up on Dropbox's web site and find a way to pay Dropbox for additional storage. That would violate Apple's prohibition against using external websites to circumvent Apple's 30% cut of subscriptions. Dropbox attempted to patch the problem by removing links that would make getting to the full version of the website and finding and buying additional storage possible, but the rejections seem to have continued. Dropbox is now working to try and find a more satisfactory solution and says they'll have more information on that next week.

On the surface, Dropbox broke a rule, caused a problem for developers using their SDK, and is now correcting the mistake. It doesn't appear to have been an intentional or obvious violation, but it was eventually discovered and now Dropbox and their developers have to deal with it.

It's that latter part that highlights some of the continued frustration with Apple's App Store policies, frustrations that persist some 5 years after the introduction of the App Store. The review and rejection process is still, as often as not, impenetrable and capricious. Plenty of apps with Dropbox integration are already on the App Store, presumably using the same SDK as the apps rejected today. That they weren't rejected as well doesn't excuse Dropbox or the apps that were rejected today, but it shows that what one (or many) reviewers let in, another (or many others) may reject.

One of the rejections listed account creation for both Apple and Goog

How about if an app linked you to store.apple.com?

That's part of what causes frustration with Apple's system. Another part is things like the recent scam app plague. Apps that should have been obvious candidates for immediate rejection to any reviewer who laid eyes on them, were let onto the store to violate intellectual property rights and cheat users out of money.

One absolutely doesn't excuse the other, but people have innate senses of fairness, and for rules to be respected they need to be perceived as being far. (As the old saying goes, people don't mind paying taxes only because it's generally believe everyone pays taxes.)

We want and need real humans reviewing App Store apps, but developers need to believe those reviewers are being fair, and applying broadly consistent standards with generally predictable results.

To their credit, Apple is continually improving the App Store review process. Because the process is human, they recognize they can't always predict all of the edge cases, all of the time. They've made changes over the years, sometimes major ones like un-banning the use of cross-compilers, sometimes small ones like un-banning satirical political cartoons.

So far, however, they haven't changed the policy that affects Dropbox -- the requirement that Apple get 30% of all subscriptions, and that apps can't link to external websites where the same subscriptions can be purchased without Apple getting that cut.

Again, Dropbox knew about it, accidentally broke it, and is now working to fix it. In the meantime, Apple will catch some criticism, both for the policy, and for the way the App Store handles policies. And given the power Apple wields, that kind of ongoing discussion isn't a bad thing.

Source: Dropbox via @sethclifford

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Dropbox SDK technically violates App Store policy, causes Dropbox integrated apps to be rejected


Frustrated? Who's frustrates? I'm just as pleased with my iOS devices as I ever was...
This even is worthy of a quick FYI mention, hardly warrants commentary...

I use Dropbox A lot, to include apps that intergrate it. So apps being rejected that offer this functionality could be very frustrating to me. Apple is quickly becoming the media and governments whipping boy, which I love, and while this won't garner much attention, the larger Apple policies and behaviors most certainly will.

Can you say "anti-trust lawsuit"? It's the same thing Micro$oft was guilty of in the 90's.

Particularly illuminating cheers, I do believe your trusty readers might probably want even more well written articles similar to this carry on the excellent hard work.

They just need to nix the policy. It wreaks of greed for a company that doesn't need or should require such a thing. I never liked the policy and it makes me want to stay away from iOS app dev for anything with a user account.

Apple had a problem where some major companies were releasing free apps and then charging via the web outside of Apple's ecosystem. (Similar to a vendor putting up a table inside Walmart and trying to run their own credit cards). Instead of going after just the apps that were being dodgy, Apple made a blanket, far too encompassing policy that breaks things that weren't broken.
I'm sure targeting it properly isn't simple, but that's the price of being a platform owner.

The problem is not just too-wide rules, but also:

  • broadly-written rules, e.g. the Mark Fiore debacle.
  • inconsistent application of those rules, so devs never truly know which which rules matter in their given context. Several blogs point to Dropbox-enabled apps being approved recently despite this SDK.
  • policy changes are frequently "announced" implicitly through rejections, rather than explicitly through communication, and almost never with a communication with an enforcement version/date attached.

The combination makes it very hard for even good-faith devs to be certain, in advance, that their app meets App Store guidelines.

So if I create a service [which I am] and build an iPad app with paid accounts, I then have to pay Apple AND anyone implementing our API [where a user account is required] to integrate into an app has to pay too.
I get the booth in Wal-mart example and the core concept of the policy but it is too far, IMHO. Conceptually it works for apps [on their platform, they get a cut] but for outside services they aren't helping to pay for is where it fails terribly.
My service = $9.99/mo. Apple takes 30% of that so now I keep $5.99. Potential for more users is great until those users force me to scale with only 70% of our sales. :-(
As a dev, it is a problem. For users, it is a much improved solution/experience. I don't blame them for choosing their users over devs.

Not even close to the same concept. You are paying Apple to develop and publish into the Apple App Store. Why does Apple need to get a cut of your services which do not involve their infrastructure beyond what you've already paid them for?
If you want to compare it with a retail space example, it would be more like renting a mall space but then the mall wants to chage you a percentage of your profits ON TOP of the rental price you're already paying for the space.

If there was another way to get apps onto idevices than I would say that it was ok. But since the app store is the only jailbreak free way to get apps on idevices I think this policy is all bad.

.. or it could be that Apple just doesn't like the competition with iCloud.
I've got a couple of Apps (mostly for business) that link to my Dropbox account, including a word processor that isn't Pages - Apple's product simply not working for my needs and iCloud simply not as convenient for non-iDevices.
I guess this decision by Apple means no more updates for these products.

Ok, this is business as usual and Apple has every right to do this, but it is just another facet of the petty business practices of the Steve Jobs era.
We don't want or need "real humans reviewing App Store apps", specially in the guise of "protecting the customer". The review process does not protect the customer, it protects Apple's business interests and that should be plainly put.
Issues like this are the reason why so many people can't stand Apple and, by proxy, its products. Such business practices look good on the onset, but with time they just become annoying and counterproductive.

I want the apps reviewed that I put on my phone because at the end of the day it's a phone, I want it as secure as possible. If I want more power than I can get from a phone I'll turn to my MacBook Air.

Well I have bad news for you then, the review process does not avoid any of that. Did you follow the link about the scam app plague on the post?
As it is, the review process has one objective only, to ensure Apple's business interests are being met. And that has very little to do with security, bad coding, memory leaks etc. You have fallen to the official marketing version, that the review is done to protect the user. It is not, it is done to protect Apple.
Again, nothing too wrong with that, as a business they can do whatever they want, but it is misleading to users, as much as to say that Macs are more secure and Mac users do not have to think about viruses and malware.

You got it right. And your phone/computer is only as secure as you let it. Need to keep sensitive data safe? Don't download any and everything. When you do make sure you know where it comes from and who delivers.

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