Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Tumblr vs. the App Store


For those of you who access Tumblr through our iOS app, we wanted to share that starting today you may see some differences for search terms and recommended content that can contain specific types of sensitive content. In order to comply with Apple’s App Store Guidelines, we are having to adjust, in the near term, what you’re able to access as it relates to potentially sensitive content while using the iOS app.

To remain available within Apple’s App Store, we are having to extend the definition of what sensitive content is as well as the way you access it in order to comply with their guidelines.


When searching for certain terms or phrases that may fall under the expanded definition of sensitive content, you may experience fewer results from that query than you have in the past. In certain circumstances, a search may not produce any results at all[…]

Sreegs (via Ben Lovejoy, Hacker News):

I used to work at Tumblr as an iOS engineer. […] The banned word list is absolutely perplexing and I can only theorize why tags like ‘long post’ are banned from appearing on iOS. What I can do is give you a peek into how the Apple App Store review process works, so you have an idea of the hell that Tumblr staff is dealing with right now.


I’d say once every 5 updates […] a reviewer would find porn, and respond by sending us the steps they followed to find it and a screenshot of the content. Tumblr staff would remove the porn, resubmit, the reviewer would find nothing, then approve the app. Once in a while Tumblr would get a really persistent reviewer. It would take a handful of porn scrubs and re-submissions before they’d finally green-light an update.


Here’s the kicker: your developer support contact will also, like the reviewer, not be consistent from case to case. They stick with you until your appeal is complete, but when you have to open a new case for a subsequent rejection, it’s someone new. And every one of them had different answers to the same questions about policies regarding adult content.


While Tumblr was actively working on the ban, they were asking Apple for any sort of guidance on what would meet approval, because as you know it’s impossible to scrub a UGC site of adult content. The answers we got were either vague or unhelpful. Tumblr had to just keep re-submitting over and over with a half-baked porn finding algorithm until it finally looked clean enough for Apple.

During this time, we’d be searching Twitter, Instagram, etc, for the same search terms that we were being rejected for, and finding lots and lots of porn.


Wait lmao if this is correct, the entire reason for Tumblr nuked their site and fell 99.7% in value was because Apple demanded it to keep their iOS app in the App Store.


That’s not even going into the monetization pieces. As we are implementing tipping and multi-merchant subscriptions in Post+, we still have to use In-App-Purchases with it’s severely lacking API.

The hoops we have to go through to get money from our App Store account to merchants are insane. We are using Stripe Connect infrastructure and Payouts API to do that, and that would be totally fine, as well as taking the fee hit.

The most insane thing is that the subscriber can be in a number of countries, where Apple fees differ (as they contain tax). But the webhook does not contain this information, so we had to reverse engineer the whole Apple pricing matrix and the fee calculation for each subscriber to know what portion to forward onto the Stripe account, and so on and so on.


Last week we published a news article advertising a holiday deal for our premium subscription. Of course, our app shows our news articles.

So the following day, while we were submitting a bug fix release, a reviewer rejected the app on the grounds that it advertised a premium service that was not available via Apple’s IAP subscriptions. We later found out they were talking about the news article preview tile. Their demand was that we remove all outbound links to the domain that hosts the premium content unless we implement Apple’s subscriptions. This would have included news articles, guides, account sign in and settings and other core components of the app that just happened to link to the site.

So we did the only thing we could do. The entire engineering team committed the rest of the week (including the weekend) to complying with Apple’s demand and we integrated Apple payments into our backend and app. Of course this blocked us from deploying critical bug fixes but we had no other option.


Update (2021-12-29): John Gruber:

It’s perfectly legal; Disney just doesn’t want their brand associated with gambling. For similar reasons, Apple is going to err on the side of overzealousness with porn in the App Store. You can get all the porno you want on the web on iOS devices.

It’s one thing to have rules for user-generated content. What’s indefensible is that Apple is unable to tell developers what the rules actually are. Also, it seems clear that some apps are singled out for more scrutiny while others that contain the same types of UGC sail through review.

Update (2022-01-13): Filipe Espósito:

Now the social network has updated its app to include a new toggle that lets users choose whether or not to view such content when using Tumblr on an iPhone or iPad.


The “Hide Sensitive Content” option is enabled by default to comply with App Store rules. In addition to hiding sensitive search results, it also hides recommendations for posts and blogs with related content when enabled.

It’s worth noting that, according to Tumblr, sensitive content is different from adult content[…]

1 Comment RSS · Twitter

I don’t understand why for so many years Apple persists in turning off their most loyal proponents with their policies. Developers will eventually build competing products and help people around them leave with them. It’s highlighting the cracks in the caretaker role Apple portrays. Personally for sure it makes me think twice about investing in this platform. Finally the App Store policies are in conflict with the freedom that is allowed still on the mac.

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