Apple’s recently announced plan to get rid of old, disliked apps from the App Store may have upset some developers, but with more than a million abandoned apps strewn across Google and Apple app stores, the evidence supports the decision.
What did Apple say about its plans?
In an April note to developers, Apple warned that it intends to begin removing old apps that haven’t been updated for three years or more and have seen few downloads in the previous 12 months.
“We are implementing an ongoing process to evaluate apps, removing apps that no longer work as intended, do not follow current review guidelines, or are outdated,” the company said.
Developers immediately began complaining about the politics, with one of the strongest arguments being that a minority of apps that were no longer up to date could be considered a form of digital artifact discovered in time.
Influenced by the criticism, Apple later clarified its approach. It explained that it has had this policy since 2016 and that it has so far removed 2.8 million apps that no longer work as intended, do not follow current review guidelines, or are simply out of date.
The company also clarified that developers can resume planned removals and extend the time period before the removal is made to 90 days, which would give smaller developers some opportunity to make their apps compliant with Apple’s requirements.
Why did Apple have to act
But despite all the criticism, Apple’s decision to kill the apps it makes available in its Store makes a lot of sense, according to the fraud-protection company Pixalate’s Abandoned Mobile Apps report.
Pixalate found more than 1.5 million abandoned apps across more than 5 million apps it checked in Google Play and Apple App Stores — and only 1.3 million apps were updated in the past six months.
Interestingly, and perhaps difficult for some Apple critics, 58% of the 500,000 or so apps have gone more than five years without an update in the Apple Store. In other words, Apple had no choice but to take action to remove such software.
The report also found that 650,000 iOS apps had not been updated in more than two years.
Interestingly, the report notes a strong relationship between regular software updates and app downloads. It found that 84% of apps were updated with more than 100 million downloads in the past six months, with finance, health and shopping apps being the most frequently updated.
Why are old abandoned apps a problem?
There are a lot of issues with old, unpopular apps – they may not work on current versions of iOS, may contain code that is no longer supported so features don’t work, or may rely on poorly made code that can result in difficulty finding software conflicts . But the main reason is security.
Abandoned apps may host malware or other security vulnerabilities that were never fixed, as developers lost interest before these flaws were identified.
[Also read: Google slowly follows Apple in app-tracking lockdown]
This means that old apps may still have tracking code that Apple wants to stop distributing (for very good reasons) and removing them is the only solution.
I think Apple is ramping up its policing to force developers to comply with user privacy efforts. She doesn’t really have a lot of options. Think of it this way: just as a relatively small number of developers who complain about app deletion have spawned online coverage, so any outrageous violations of user privacy are caused by outdated and disinterested apps distributed through their store.
Both Apple and Google should prepare for more regulation. For example, in the UK, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a consultation to develop a voluntary code of practice to protect consumers from harmful apps.
“The main intervention the government is proposing at this initial stage is a voluntary code of practice for all app store operators and developers,” DCMS said. “It’s because we [recognize] The current most effective way to protect large-scale users from malicious and unsafe apps, and to ensure developers improve their practices, is through app stores.”
I have looked at the offers. It’s notable the extent to which they justify Apple’s approach to app privacy and security.
What will come next?
Removing tens of thousands of disliked apps may seem critical, but it’s not as dramatic as some might think.
Right now, Apple approves 1,000 new apps every day in the App Store, which means that even though all those unpopular apps are cleared, there’s still a wide range of software available. All that is lost are apps that have not been updated and their developers cannot comply with Apple’s stated policy.
If one more thing to keep in mind is that if certain regulatory changes are forced on Apple, we’ll see a lot of app stores pop up, and not all of them will be created equal. Some will be less regulated, which means less protection for consumers. Sideloading an app containing malicious code will be a bigger problem than ever, as will initially benign apps that later become hosts of malware because they carry vulnerabilities in the first place and have never been patched.
One way Apple will be able to stand up to less ethical competition is by doubling down on the apps distributed across its Store. It will make apps more private and secure and ensure the App Store environment continues to be the safest and most convenient place to shop.
To ensure their apps continue to be available in the Apple App Store, developers will need to be as committed to their software as Apple is to its platforms, which means regular patches, improvements, and upgrades.
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