Apple blazed the trail where Android came up short, in allowing mobile casino apps on its App Store platform. Until relatively recently, the Google Play Store was a no-go zone for apps from gambling operators, before allowing apps by direct link, and then ultimately adopting a more liberal approach. But now, with an announced crackdown on gambling apps, Apple appears to have turned the clock back.
Unfortunately for Apple, their attempts to shut down gambling apps have seen the ban hammer fall a little too widely. While Apple had certain gambling apps in its sights, the tech giant appears to have completed missed the mark, instead hitting apps that were not in contravention of its platform policies.
According to reports emerging this week from the BBC, app developers have been left enraged by Apple’s decision to effectively destroy their businesses overnight, under the guise of gambling restrictions. The problem? Many of the apps affected have absolutely nothing to do with gambling.
Amongst those apps removed from the App Store in error have been a GIF sharing app, an app for exchanging clips from Xbox games, and a Polish-language magazine, none of which could be said to have even the slightest connection to gambling.
Wojtek Peitrusiewicz of iMagazine, a magazine app based in Poland, turned to Twitter to voice his frustrations, around 24 hours after Apple approved the latest version of his app for the App Store. According to Peitrusiewicz, Apple said the app had been removed to “reduce fraudulent activity” and “comply with government requests to address illegal online gambling activity.” The magazine has nothing to do with fraudulent activity or gambling – either in functionality, or in its subject matter, one of a number of similar decisions that have left developers scratching their heads.
Copenhagen-based developers of Gifferent, a GIF sharing app, shared his frustrations at Apple. Simon Stovring, of Gifferent, said Apple hadn’t been transparent enough with developers, in either how it detects gambling related content, or what it was that has offended the App Store’s policies. According to Stovring, at least ten of his colleagues had also been affected by the crackdown on gambling apps.
The developments will no doubt cause embarrassment for Apple, with a PR storm brewing in the app developer community. In their rush to please national regulators, Apple has trampled over small, independent developers who have ostensibly done nothing wrong – not only have they developed in line with App Store terms and conditions, but their apps aren’t even anything to do with gambling.
Of course, gambling apps from legitimate online casino operators are, in their own right, perfectly in line with the rules of the App Store. Yet that hasn’t stopped Apple targeting a number of betting and casino apps on their platform.
Pressure from the government in Norway recently saw the removal of a number of legitimate apps from the store, including from Betsson, NordicBet, Coolbet, Comeon, LeoVegas, Mr Green and Unibet. Coolbet and Comeon maintain that their apps are entirely legal, licensed and protected under EU rules from operating within the Norwegian market.
The move comes amidst mounting pressure from national governments to clamp down on remote gambling. Some have speculated this is a direct result of governments looking to retain state licensing monopolies, or chasing cheap votes at the expense of jobs and tax revenues from the legitimate gambling sector.
In each of these instances, Apple’s heavy handed approach feels like a retrograde step. By applying new rules retrospectively, taking down many legitimate app developers as they go, Apple might temporarily keep national lawmakers happy. But at what cost for the developer community, and for those legitimate businesses that work with Apple to provide App Store content?
The longer term ramifications for the App Store are yet to play out. But if it carries on like this, Apple might find itself falling out of favour with the developers it relies upon to create new content for its platform.