Apple publishes app store approval guidelines

After months of squabbling over app approvals and rejections, Apple today published the first list of guidelines to help developers navigate the often-frustrating process.

The new "App Store Review Guidelines," available on Apple's website for registered developers, cover the basic criteria Apple uses to approve apps for distribution through the iTunes Store. The guidelines range from the obvious ("apps that crash will be rejected") to the technical ("apps that browse the Web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript").

A significant obstacle for media companies developing apps for iOS devices has been understanding how Apple's policies are applied to content. Widely publicized missteps by Apple, such as its rejection of Mark Fiore's political cartoon app, have highlighted the difficulties.

Apple's new guidelines don't guarantee all future controversies will be avoided, but they do provide a framework for understanding the company's approach on several issues, including:

  • Personal attacks
  • Violence
  • Objectionable content
  • Privacy
  • Pornography
  • Religion, culture and ethnicity

Of those categories, "personal attacks" is of particular interest to media organizations. This rule specifically permits "satirists and humorists" to ridicule public figures, which is why Fiore's app was originally rejected:

"14. Personal attacks
14.1 Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harm's way will be rejected
14.2 Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary"

Still open to interpretation is who is a "professional" and who is a "humorist" -- so we will undoubtedly see cases that test those definitions. Overall, the guidelines are a step forward and could be seen as an acknowledgment by Apple that a bit more transparency in the process is best for everyone.


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