Monday, October 10, 2016 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple and Kapeli Respond About Dash

Jim Dalrymple (Hacker News, MacRumors, 9to5Mac):

“Almost 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected across two accounts and 25 apps for this developer so we removed their apps and accounts from the App Store,” Apple spokesperson, Tom Neumayr, said in a statement provided to The Loop on Monday. “Warning was given in advance of the termination and attempts were made to resolve the issue with the developer but they were unsuccessful. We will terminate developer accounts for ratings and review fraud, including actions designed to hurt other developers. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, on behalf of all of our customers and developers.”

Rene Ritchie (tweet):

My understanding is that the reviews included fraudulent positive reviews for their own apps and negative reviews for competing apps. That’s something the App Store simply can’t ignore.

[…]

It also seems like developers are given every chance to make things right in these situations: Get clean slates or open new accounts, make sure they’re squeaky-clean, and go on about their business.

[…]

This concept — that one bad developer could arrange for false reviews for a competing developer and get them banned from the App Store as a result — has been generating a lot of stress in the community.

My understanding is that the chances of that happening are virtually zero.

It’s not clear to me why this is. It all seems to hinge on Apple being able to tell who is ultimately paying for the fake reviews, and I don’t see how they could do that.

John Gruber:

Apple typically lets accusations like this slide. It’s a no-win situation for Apple, publicity-wise: let an accusation stand unanswered and Apple looks like the App Store is run like a banana republic, but if they dispute it, they face the optics of a hundred-billion-dollar Goliath punching down against a small indie developer. This case with Dash gained enough attention that I think they felt they had to respond. Too many developers believed that Apple acted capriciously, when in fact, according to Apple, this was the culmination of a years-long dispute.

Brent Simmons:

I don’t know what’s true here. It wouldn’t be right for Apple to make all the evidence public, and it wouldn’t be right for Apple to publish their correspondence with him. So it’s likely we won’t ever know more than we do right now.

Bogdan Popescu (tweet, Hacker News):

What I’ve done: 3-4 years ago I helped a relative get started by paying for her Apple’s Developer Program Membership using my credit card. I also handed her test hardware that I no longer needed. From then on those accounts were linked in the eyes of Apple. Once that account was involved with review manipulation, my account was closed.

I was not aware my account was linked to another until Apple contacted me Friday, 2 days after closing my account. I was never notified of any kind of wrongdoing before my account was terminated.

[…]

Apple insisted that all communication was through phone calls. Luckily, I recorded my last phone call with them[…]

[…]

Just to make it clear, I have complied with Apple’s request and have sent a blog post draft approximately 30 minutes after this phone call ended. I have since not received any contact from Apple in any way, and they did not respond to my calls. Their recent statements come as a shock as I thought we were working together to resolve this issue.

Rene Ritchie:

The call, absent context, can be read in a number of ways. Ass covering, or bending over backwards to help dev help himself.

Marco Arment (tweet):

I’m glad our community assumed the best of another developer and pressured Apple to justify this severe action. We should now accept that they have.

[…]

We don’t know what happened between that call and Apple’s statements tonight. I’m guessing Popescu and Apple couldn’t reach an agreement over the wording of the public story, but I think what Apple asked for in that phone call was extremely reasonable.

It’s also notable that Apple investigated this and tried to resolve it as well as they did. If it were any other company — say, Google for a suspended AdSense or YouTube account — I suspect the amount of effort devoted to it would be much lower.

Matt Drance:

Apple developers: the only thing you know right now is that you don’t know everything. That is the only lesson from this Dash mess.

From the call, we learn that Apple is fixated on the idea that the two developer accounts were linked because they used the same credit card and devices. This could be for either innocent or nefarious reasons. Apple doesn’t want to admit to any wrongdoing, and neither does Popescu. We don’t, and likely will never, know whether the second account was actually operated by Bogdan or by his relative. I’m inclined to believe him because, as Gruber says, “it would explain the extreme discrepancy in quality.”

The mystery, to me, is Apple’s statement to the press. First, why send it out without getting back to the developer about the requested blog post draft? Second, in light of the call, Apple’s public statement seems deliberately misleading. The developer relations person seemed to acknowledge (1) that Bogdan says the problem account was operated by someone else, and (2) that Apple never contacted him on his Dash account. Yet Apple’s statement says that they warned him in advance and implies that both accounts had fraudulent behavior.

The fact that the Dash account was terminated seems to support Popescu’s contention that that account was never warned. Otherwise, surely this conversation would have happened sooner, and it would have remained a private matter. Why would Apple go to the trouble of closing the account, apparently not telling him it was because of the linked bad account, then helping him to restore it, after telling him that the decision couldn’t be appealed?

My guess is that Apple found the bad account, and warned it, but did not initially realize that the linked account was “good.” When they shut down the bad account they just shut down all the linked ones, too. In many cases, that’s probably the right thing to do. But this time they didn’t check, and that turned out to be a mistake. When Apple learned that Popescu planned to tell the full story, without admitting wrongdoing, they decided to get their version, sliming him, out first.

So it seems like Apple made two mistakes: closing the good account without warning and trying to cover that up. However, it’s entirely possible that more information will come to light. Given the finality of Apple’s initial communication, it sounds like the Dash account would have remained closed were it not for all the press attention. (And it’s not re-opened yet.)

See also: Colin Cornaby, Nick Lockwood, Jeff Johnson, David Owens II, Paul Haddad, John Daniel, Russell Ivanovic, David Owens II, istumbler, Jeff Johnson, Colin Cornaby, Steve Streza, Steve Troughton-Smith.

Previously: Apple Removed Dash From the Mac App Store.

Update (2016-10-11): Peter Maurer:

As a side note, some of the Kapeli apps mentioned in coverage on this, such as [DockView], were actual Bogdan apps. So I’d be curious what…

…apps exactly triggered Apple’s fraud thing, but that’s basically a character flaw of mine and really none of my business.

Christina:

Wayback Machine & Google Cache seem to show all older @kapeli apps xferred to alleged fraudulent account. Not just association through CC :(

That account was selling all his old apps. His story never mentions that insignificant bit.

I guess that would explain the common bundle identifier prefix.

Bogdan Popescu (tweet):

It does not look like Dash can return to the App Store anytime soon. Due to Dash’s removal from the App Store, please note that you can no longer download the apps you paid for.

[…]

Dash for iOS can’t be distributed outside of the App Store. My preferred solution would be for a fellow developer to get it back on the App Store, as a free app.

Nick Heer:

A public fight isn’t ideal from a PR perspective, but it seems like that it’s what it can take to get an adequate answer. In his first post on the subject, Popescu said that he asked developer relations why Dash was removed and didn’t receive an answer initially.

Manton Reece:

That’s the damage Apple has done in going to the press and smearing him. They’ve destroyed the goodwill he had in the community from his well-respected app. I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, yet I hesitated.

Rene Ritchie:

At this point, though, it’s time to forget working it out. Mistakes were clearly made on both sides, and there may be no way for the real truth to ever be known, or for everyone to win. But there’s a way to stop anyone else from losing further: Fix it, unilaterally, because you’re Apple, and you can.

Update (2016-10-12): Manton Reece:

It’s easy to defend someone who is obviously innocent. It’s harder when they make mistakes, but in areas unrelated to the crime. In that way, this App Store “rejection” is unique. It may be the most important test we’ve seen of Apple’s power in the store.

Michael Göbel:

Getting your account suspended, canceled, terminated by Apple is nothing unusual - but usually no one hears or cares about it because it happens to developers with smaller apps, or scammers.

Nick Lockwood:

I’m not sure I agree with the idea of Apple trying to identify “linked” accounts and apply collective punishment at all to be honest.

Update (2016-10-13): Bogdan Popescu via Rene Ritchie (tweet):

In 2014 I realised that there was no possible way for me to support and develop all of my apps anymore and decided to focus on Dash exclusively. I told my family about this and they thought I wasn’t rational, because my old apps were still making some money. My mother proposed I move some of my apps to her account and that she would handle the support and maintenance for those apps. I transferred the following apps: moveAddict, iGuard, iSecure, iClap and Stay Awake.

[…]

When Apple said that the 2 developer accounts used the same bank account, what they meant was that the bank accounts used the same owner name [his mother’s] until 2015. The 2 developer accounts never sent money to the exact same bank account (different IBAN). I have never received any money resulting from the actions of the other account.

[…]

Once Apple told me what happened, I collaborated with them and did not talk to the press during that time. I also complied with their request to make a blog post telling the truth, which I sent a draft of, but never received a response. I thought I could leave my family out of this, but following Apple’s statement the Internet kept digging, so I had to come forward and tell the whole story.

One could quibble with the wording in the draft blog post, but it seems like he basically did what Apple asked. So, unless there is more to the story, it sounds like Apple reneged on the agreement and went to the press instead. And then he posted the recording of the call to try to defend himself, but at the same time burned his bridge with Apple.

Update (2016-10-15): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast and Core Intuition.

Update (2016-10-17): See also: The Talk Show.

12 Comments

@Barry Those tweets are from 5+ years ago, apparently before the second account was created. It looks like he transferred his old apps to the second account, and then the fraudulent reviews happened later.

Alvin Thompson

@Michael So you're saying that in order to help his cousin get started in development, he set up the new account with his own credit card, gave her his devices, and then GAVE HER HIS APPS? I've been a developer for a long time, and while I love mentoring others I'm pretty possessive about my code; I don't like others mucking up my "perfect" works of art and science.

Just my opinion, but I listened to the call and his refusal to admit his actions could have even innocently played any part in the situation is in my experience a hallmark of people with questionable moral compasses.

Once again just my opinion, and you know what people say about opinions. Everyone has one and most of them stink.

@Alvin I’m not an expert on those apps, but it sounds like maybe they were side projects that he no longer wanted to work on. My recollection of the call is that he admitted to setting up the other account, just refused to admit to doing any of the bad actions associated with it. That seems like a reasonable position for an innocent person to take. Of course, a guilty person might say the same thing.

Alvin Thompson

I'm not questioning that he admitted to taking those actions, I'm pointing out that he refuses to admit that his actions could have played a role in the current situation.

Konstantin Anoshkin

@Michael Transferring apps to another account is obviously OK. The problem — as I see it from Apple's point of view — is that both the accounts were paid for with the same credit card (and used the same devices?), so the accounts are definitely linked. You don't usually sell your App Store apps to yourself, nor do you usually pay for other people's App Store accounts with your credit card. Apple has every reason to believe the two accounts are run by the same person. Having multiple accounts is a legitimate business practice, sure. Unless one of them violates Apple's rules. That's where the gray area begins.

On one hand, Apple should treat the accounts separately, as though they belonged to different persons. On the other hand, it looks like the person is trying to game the system, doing the bad things from one account and keeping another one 'clean'. Which hand to choose, then, largely depends on other factors that we can only speculate about: the scale of abuse, server logs, negotiations tone, previous history, call recording and posting, etc. Every detail counts.

I'm not defending Apple, just trying to convince myself that they may have a valid reason to cancel Bogdan's account.

@Alvin To me, it sounds like he admitted exactly that on the blog.

@Konstantin All of those sound like valid reasons to contact the main account, to figure out what was going on, but Apple didn’t do that.

[…] Note 7 is cooked Google Pixel New Chromecast, Daydream VR, Google Wi-Fi and Google Home Dash removed from Apple Store […]

There *is* one thing missing from hhis draft post that Apple asked for: That Apple accurately detected fraudulent activity.

Mistakes were made on both ends, but to say Mr. Popescu's draft "basically did what Apple asked" is incorrect. He simply stated that "his" account had no fraudulent activity. (I'm not sure, but does this fit a straw man argument?)

@Dave The draft said that the other account “was involved with review manipulation,” i.e. fraudulent activity that Apple had detected, and he said why Apple reasonably thought the two accounts were linked (but didn’t actually use that key word). It seems close enough to what Apple asked for that further discussion should have been possible.

[…] Previously: Apple Removed Dash From the Mac App Store, Apple and Kapeli Respond About Dash. […]

[…] Without proof of wrongdoing, they get slimed in the press and banned from the store even if they write a blog post absolving Apple. But if you’re Uber, you get a one-on-one meeting with Tim Cook, your app […]

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