Apple updates its App Store rules to crack down on clones

On the sidelines of the ongoing Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple has updated its App Store Review Guidelines to crack down on app clones and copycats.

In a blog post, the company said impersonating an app is now considered a violation of the App Store’s rules:

“Submitting apps which impersonate other apps or services is considered a violation of the Developer Code of Conduct and may result in removal from the Apple Developer Program.”

The updated guidelines mention that developers shouldn’t copy the app’s code or user interface, or have a similar name to another popular app.

“Come up with your own ideas. We know you have them, so make yours come to life. Don’t simply copy the latest popular app on the App Store, or make some minor changes to another app’s name or UI and pass it off as your own,” the new section in the guidelines reads. “In addition to risking an intellectual property infringement claim, it makes the App Store harder to navigate and just isn’t fair to your fellow developers,” the rules state.

Apple’s change comes after many ChatGPT clones flooded the App Store (and Play Store) earlier this year. But this is not an isolated incident. In previous years, games like Wordle, Unpacking, Flappy Bird and Threes amid clone wars.

The company always had rules against copying other developers’ work, however. In 2017, the company added a clause preventing apps from being submitted by “app generation services” on behalf of clients. At that time, there were questions about how the company would handle apps made by a company for small business clients, which attracted the attention of Congress.

The new rule change focuses on apps copying the looks and nomenclature of other apps. But there are still questions as to how Apple will apply these rules. For instance, AppLovin acquired an older mobile game named Wordle! last year that had no relation to Wordle which is now owned by The New York Times. And app reviewers can mistake one game for a clone of another. While these are well-known apps, Apple will have to closely inspect different apps with similar names to avoid incorrect removals.

While the biggest change in the new guidelines is the addition of the rules around clones, Apple also revised other areas of the policy.

It noted that apps that contain ads must also include the ability for users to report inappropriate or age-inappropriate ads and cracked down on subscriptions provided by carrier apps. For the latter, Apple now says it must approve any carrier apps that provide subscription bundles when customers purchase a new cellular plan; adds they cannot include “access to or discounts on consumable items;” and says that the subscriptions must terminate when the customer ends service with the cellular provider.

Plus, apps with extensions were told they must comply with the App Extension Programming Guide, the Safari App Extensions Guide, or the Safari Web Extensions documentation, and should include functionality, like help screens or settings where possible. Safari extension must also run on the current version of Safari.

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