Apple says metadata error to blame for Files app boosting controversy

iPad files
iPad files (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple claims that a metadata error led to the Files app being "boosted" above Dropbox in its iOS App Store.
  • It follows controversy after internal emails revealed Apple may have given Files a leg up over its rivals in the App Store for WWDC 2017.
  • Apple's App Store is under intense scrutiny, with search result adverts and favoring of Apple's own products a big question of debate.

Apple says that an error in the metadata of its Files app led to it appearing above Dropbox in the App Store when users searched for the term, following the discovery of internal emails where Apple discussed boosting the app for WWDC.

Emails filed as part of the Epic Games vs Apple trial reveal an email Tim Sweeney sent to Apple, complaining about the fact that when he searched for Dropbox on the App Store, he was met with an advert bought by Google and then Apple's own Files ahead of Dropbox.

Apple's Matt Fischer responded by stating "who green lit putting the Files app above Dropbox in organic search results? I didn't know we did that, and I don't think we should."

An Apple employee stated in response "I think the files app was manually boosted on the top for the search query 'Dropbox' during last WWDC. Fischer goes on to express his disapproval of the measure stating "I wasn't aware that we were boosting the Files app and would like to know how that happened and who requested it. In the future, I want any similar requests to come to me for review/approval."

Now, according to The Verge, Apple says a metadata error was to blame for the problem:

But Apple tells The Verge that what we think we're seeing in these emails isn't quite accurate. While Apple didn't challenge the idea that Files was unfairly ranked over Dropbox, the company says the reality was a simple mistake: the Files app had a Dropbox integration, so Apple put "Dropbox" into the app's metadata, and it was automatically ranked higher for "Dropbox" searches as a result.

This is a different suggestion to the one given in the email, however, Matt Fischer's Epic Games trial testimony was consistent on this point. On day four of the trial he was presented with evidence in which an employee said that Fischer felt strongly about not featuring Apple's competitor on the App Store, which Fischer said was "definitely not accurate" and came for a "very misinformed" employee. In his testimony he stated:

"We have promoted apps that are competitive to Apple apps since before I joined the App Store team in 2010, and we continue to not only distribute but to feature and promote apps that are competitive to Apple apps in the store. We do this all the time."

The Verge report states Apple simply stated it did not "manually" boost Files over competitors, again hinting this was done by accident, further stating "we do not advantage our apps over those of any developer or competitor." The full statement reads:

We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. App Store Search has only one goal — to get customers what they are looking for. We do that in a way that is fair to all developers and we do not advantage our apps over those of any developer or competitor. Today, developers have many options for distributing their apps and that's why we work hard to make it easy, fair and a great opportunity for them to develop apps for our customers around the world.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9