Why Apple needs to remove old and unsupported apps from the App Store – Computerworld | Hot Mobile Press

Apple’s recently announced plan to remove unloved legacy apps from the App Store may have angered some developers, but with more than 1 million abandoned apps strewn across Google and Apple’s app stores, the evidence supports the decision.

What Apple has said about its plans

In an April note to developers, Apple warned that it intends to remove old apps that haven’t been updated in three or more years and have seen few downloads in the previous 12 months.

“We implement an ongoing process to evaluate apps and remove apps that no longer work as intended, don’t meet current review guidelines, or are out of date,” the company said.

Developers immediately began complaining about the policy, with one of the strongest arguments being that a minority of apps that no longer update can be viewed as some sort of digital artwork captured over time.

Stung by the criticism, Apple later specified its approach. It stated that it has followed this policy since 2016 and has so far removed 2.8 million apps that no longer work as intended, don’t meet current review guidelines, or are simply outdated.

The company also stated that developers can appeal against the planned removals and extended the removal period to 90 days, which should also give smaller developers a chance to adapt their app to Apple’s requirements.

Why Apple had to act

But for all the criticism, Apple’s decision to weed out the apps it makes available in its Store makes a lot of sense, according to fraud protection firm Pixalate’s Abandoned Mobile Apps Report.

Pixalate found more than 1.5 million abandoned apps in the more than 5 million it checked across the Google Play and Apple app stores – and just 1.3 million apps updated in the last six months.

Interestingly, and possibly grist to the mill of some Apple critics, 58% of the approximately 500,000 apps that have gone more than five years without an update are in Apple’s Store. In other words, Apple had no choice but to take action to remove such software.

The report also revealed that 650,000 iOS apps have not been updated for more than two years.

It’s interesting that the report finds a strong (similar) correlation between regular software updates and app downloads. It found that 84% of apps with more than 100 million downloads were updated within the last six months, with finance, health, and shopping apps being updated the most.

Why are old, discontinued apps a problem?

There are many problems with old, unloved apps – they may not work on current editions of iOS, they may contain code that is no longer supported so features don’t work, or they may be based on poorly designed code that generates code that is difficult to understand can. Find software conflicts. But the big reason is safety.

Discontinued apps may host malware or other vulnerabilities that were never patched because developers lost interest before these bugs were identified.

[Also read: Google slowly follows Apple in app-tracking lockdown]

Apple’s other challenge is that apps that haven’t been updated may not be fully transparent about privacy and what user data they collect. Apple’s app tracking privacy policy means developers must disclose such information when releasing an app through the App Store, which older apps weren’t required to do.

This means older apps may still contain tracking code that Apple no longer wants to distribute (for very good reasons), and removing it is the only solution.

I think Apple is stepping up monitoring to force developers to comply with users’ privacy efforts. It doesn’t really have much choice. Think of it this way: just as a relatively small number of developers complaining about app deletions generated online coverage, so too would any heinous violations of user privacy caused by old and unkempt apps, that are sold through the store.

Apple and Google also have to adapt to more regulation. In the UK, for example, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a consultation to develop a voluntary code of practice to protect consumers from malicious apps.

“The main intervention that the government is proposing at this initial stage is a voluntary code of conduct for all app store operators and developers,” DCMS said. “That’s because we [recognize] that the most effective way to protect users from malicious and unsafe apps at scale and ensure developers improve their practices is through app stores.”

I looked at the suggestions; The extent to which they justify Apple’s approach to app privacy and security is remarkable.

What’s next?

Removing tens of thousands of unloved apps might sound like a big deal, but it’s not as dramatic as some might think.

Apple currently approves 1,000 new apps in the App Store every day, which means that despite the removal of all those unloved apps, there’s still a wide range of software available. All that is lost are apps that are not updated and whose developers cannot comply with Apple’s stated policy.

If there’s one more thing to note, it’s that if certain regulatory changes are forced on Apple, numerous app stores will appear, and not all will be the same. Some will be less well regulated, meaning less protection for consumers. Sideloading an app that contains malicious code will be a bigger problem than ever, as will the existence of initially benign apps that later become hosts for malware because they contained vulnerabilities in the first place and were never patched.

One way Apple is holding its own against less ethical competition is by doubling down on the apps it sells through its Store. It will work to make apps even more private and secure, ensuring the App Store environment continues to be the safest and most convenient place to shop.

To ensure their apps stay available in Apple’s App Store, developers 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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