App Store guidelines are ‘unprecedented’, appeals court rules

Apple Inc got an unprecedented ruling Monday on changes it made to its App Store in 2016 that gave users greater control over some app permissions, after a federal appeals court sided with competitors, ruling the updates caused irreparable harm.

The appeals court upheld an injunction that prevented Apple from changing its App Store rules again, but gave the firm discretion to make the update. The verdict could influence disputes over app permissions between tech firms and consumers in the future.

Apple’s rule changes in 2016 removed the ability of users to override a digital wall around apps, effectively shutting off popular functionality that lets users change settings such as the limits on how many songs an app could read.

The announcement set off a frenzy among developers, with some voluntarily removing the “Limit Access” option from their apps, while others filed lawsuits. One of the lawsuits led to the injunction.

App developer Overlay Apps, which was involved in the original litigation, in February 2017 asked the US district court in San Jose, California, to issue an injunction that would prevent Apple from publishing new changes that would “unfairly burden” the developers.

The appeals court Monday said Apple’s change to the App Store’s approval process by changing the App Store review process was an “unprecedented” change to the company’s rules. It said the review process should have left reviewers with the discretion to decide if developers deserved approval and that the way Apple did so led to the denial of an iPhone app in some cases that deserved approval.

“We conclude that the court’s injunction should not be extended to Apple’s revisions to the policy of the App Store review process for App Store submissions,” the court said in a 493-page decision.

Calls and emails to Apple were not immediately returned.

Apple did not comment on the injunction after the ruling. The company said it implemented the rules to ensure the quality of the app store. In a 2016 blog post on its website, Apple said: “The only way to really know if an app is ready for the App Store is to review it for the first time.”

A message on Apple’s App Store said the company will publish an updated version of the Review Guidelines “to reflect the new Order”.

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