Pet salon

The mystery of why Pretty Pet Salon was banned from the App Store and then fired

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Nice pet lounge debuted in Apple’s iTunes App Store in January 2011. It has generated over 7 million downloads on iOS and later on Android. But on January 12, it mysteriously disappeared from the App Store – then it returned in a different form at the end of March. Why this happened is an interesting story.

The app, created by a Hong Kong-based company Animoca, a division of Explode businesses, allegedly violated Apple because it violated an Apple policy that prohibits app creators from manipulating the App Store’s top 25 rankings. But Animoca says he hasn’t done anything wrong and really doesn’t understand why Apple banned it without an explanation. [Read our investigative report on unaware developers caught in Apple’s dragnet.]

Animoca admits to using 25 different third-party marketing services. Some of these services may use bots or fake users with fake iTunes accounts to download applications in large numbers and artificially inflate their ranking in the charts. Others are using humans to do the same, uploading a lot of games to fake accounts where the games are never used. Other services generate fake reviews. But it’s hard for a company like Animoca to know whether their third-party marketing department is legitimately promoting an app or not. And Animoca’s own experience may very well scare legitimate developers into doing anything that could be interpreted as risky – or innovative – in their marketing.


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Developers want answers

Animoca and third-party merchants don’t necessarily leak Apple’s app. Rather, they just want to know what they did wrong. Ibrahim El-Mouelhy, spokesperson for Animoca, said: “We have never used bots or intentionally engaged in manipulative activities.”

The manipulation of the App Store ranking was an issue big enough for Apple to issue a statement on February 6. In a message on his developer page, Apple said, “Once you’ve created a great app, you want everyone to know about it. However, when promoting your app, you should avoid using any services that advertise or guarantee top placement on the App Store. Even if you are not personally engaged in manipulating App Store graphics rankings or user reviews, using services that do so on your behalf may result in the loss of your membership in the Apple Developer Program.

An Apple representative made his first call to Animoca in early January. The appellant spoke to an Animoca representative whose mother tongue was not English. Based on this conversation about “fake reviews”, the situation worsened. Animoca didn’t know what Apple was referring to and let its third-party marketing departments know to stop whatever they were doing. He didn’t really know if they were doing something wrong. But Apple apparently learned that Animoca broadcast this message. It may have sounded suspicious.

On January 11, Animoca published a blog post on how the best App Store graphics could be improved, simply by hiding the apps a user had already installed. The next day, the company’s applications were deleted.

Animoca admitted to using third-party marketing service Gtekna, a two-person company run by Managing Director Chang-Min Pak. Pak told us his company only uses legitimate methods, including gift cards, to help distribute a game. Gtekna changed its website after Apple’s statement in February to no longer guarantee its placement. in the top 25 rankings. But Pak said his company has worked with thousands of app developers, and none of them have been banned, to his knowledge.

No one disputes the importance of getting into the top 25 because the App Store is not very good at helping apps stand out among the sea of ​​over 600,000 active apps. The temporary boost in marketing services can be a boon to app builders. Once in the charts, apps get more visibility and more downloads, and ultimately, they gain enough momentum to live on their own, if they’re good enough to appeal to consumers. Pushing an app by promoting it to people is a fair game, but pushing an app to people who don’t intend to use it, or completely automating the app download process, will cause problems for a creator. applications.

El-Mouelhy said Apple’s communication to Animoca did not explain why it was banned. An Apple spokesperson told us that this was a violation of guideline 3.10, which reads: “Developers who attempt to manipulate or deceive user reviews or the ranking of graphics in the App Store with bogus or paid reviews, or any other improper method will be removed from the iOS Developer. Beyond that, Apple declined to comment.

“We have made several attempts to figure out why this happened and how to fix it,” El-Mouelhy said. “We offered an all expenses paid trip to Apple to visit us in Hong Kong to review our books. Apple did not respond.