Late last year, a series of app removals hit bitcoin wallets, causing folks in the industry to panic over Apple’s stance on the “virtual currency.” When that happened, I wrote a piece about exactly how Apple felt about bitcoin, as the company wasn’t talking publicly.
In the piece, I stated the following:
Bitcoin is not illegal, but it is also not legally recognized by governments as a currency. This gray area is what is leading Apple to reject Bitcoin-transaction apps.
Apple is simply taking the safest, most protective path by disallowing transaction functionality in App Store apps — for now.
As to how Apple might handle Bitcoin transactions in apps in the future, look to how it handles gambling apps, also covered in the App Store rules. For states or countries that allow gambling — like Nevada or the UK — Apple allows apps to use geo-fencing to restrict activities to those regions. A similar system could be put in place to allow Bitcoin transactions in places where it has been deemed ‘legal’ by a government entity.
Now, Apple has added a new rule under its App Store Review guidelines that specifically mentions bitcoin.
11.17 Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions.
This section explicitly spells out Apple’s attitude toward virtual currencies. It’s exactly what we published last year: They’ll accept apps that handle bitcoin transmission as long as they comply with all state and federal laws.
Does this mean Apple will start accepting bitcoin apps that transmit currency in the App Store immediately? Probably not, unless there have been rulings declaring the currency “legal” in a given region. If there is no ruling, I wouldn’t count on it. Still, it’s likely that some folks, like Gliph, will test those bounds and make a solid attempt to get that functionality into the App Store soon.
Note that bitcoin apps that don’t facilitate transfer of currency are currently fine in the App Store.
And it’s certainly encouraging to see Apple being definite about its stance in the App Store rules.