Apple's bot farm ban blacklisting scores of legitimate businesses, say developers
Crackdown causing collateral damage
That's according to a report on VentureBeat, which cites a number of anonymous developers who claim they have been unwillingly caught up in Apple's attempts to block businesses utilising bot farms.
The technique, which hit the headlines back in February, involves scores of bots downloading a specific app several times until it reaches the higher echelons of the App Store's rankings.
Though the downloads themselves are entirely artificial, the visibility afforded by the high chart placing can, in theory, lead to a rise in legitimate downloads.
In China, a similar technique involves whole 'water armies' of people downloading apps for similar gain a practice that's harder to spot, given humans rather than bots are the weapons of choice.
All such techniques were quickly outlawed by Apple, but the difficulty of splitting farmed downloads from genuine ones has resulted in innocent developers being banned from the App Store for life, with no reason given for their dismissal and no right of reply afforded.
"We had an app rejected and we didn't know why," said an anonymous 'seasoned' developer.
"It would be much better if we had clear communication from Apple about what the guidelines really are. It seems like everyone is worried about this, but the information isn't evenly circulated. People think that Apple plays favourites."
What angers said developers, it's claimed, it that small, independent outfits aren't being treated in the same manner as the App Store's big hitters.
Indeed, one source "familiar with the cheaters" suggests some of the supposed "big guys" regularly manipulate the App Store using techniques that contravene Apple's guidelines, but these businesses are rarely called out for engaging in such practices.
For those that are caught, however, Apple's response is said to be swift, with the company holding little sympathy for developers who have unknowingly employed marketing agencies built around bot farms.
"A friend of mine had a pretty successful mobile app development company with hundreds of titles in the App Store," added Nexon America president Daniel Kim.
"He just got cut off one day because he used the wrong marketing company. Without his knowledge, this company had used bots to bring some of their titles up on the rankings.
"They were completely cut off. They were running like 24 million [downloads] a year, and there is no appeal process. It's pretty absolute."
Turning to the dark side
Even formally 'clean' developers are being forced into utilising bot farms to keep up with the competition, it's suggested.
Such is the competitive nature of the App Store, that manipulating the platform is now less a technique used to get ahead, and more one that simply helps maintain the status quo.
Nevertheless, while Apple's methods are drawing criticism and risk threatening legitimate businesses the world over, few argue that the firm is in the wrong for wanting to take action against supposed App Store cheaters.
"A lot of these content farms are poisoning relevancy," concluded PlayHaven chief executive Andy Yang
"Some developers will try to get away with it. Others won't take the chance. It is universally good news if Apple cracks down on them and the marketing dollars dont go into bot farms."