Apple App Store Developer Agreement Shackles Competition, EFF Says

The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) obtains a copy of Apple's iPhone Developer Program License Agreement and finds provisions it labeled "disturbing" and "frustrating."

Developers and Apple critics have long grumbled about the tight grip the computer maker holds over its wildly successful App Store, complaining Apple's secretive and restrictive policies shut out potentially positive technologies and applications and only run programs designed specifically for Apple. This week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international non-profit digital rights advocacy and legal organization, obtained a copy of Apple's "iPhone Developer Program License Agreement", a 28-page document the EFF called "troubling".

In the agreement form, which must be signed by all developers interested in creating applications for the iPhone, iPod touch or upcoming iPad, there are provisions prohibiting developers from making public statements about the terms of the agreement, despite the fact that the terms themselves are not confidential. Other highlights the EFF pointed out include exclusive rights of distribution once an application is submitted, as well as Apple's right to reject any application regardless of whether it meets all of the company's requirements.

"Overall, the Agreement is a very one-sided contract, favoring Apple at every turn. That's not unusual where end-user license agreements are concerned (and not all the terms may ultimately be enforceable), but it's a bit of a surprise as applied to the more than 100,000 developers for the iPhone, including many large public companies," wrote EFF senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann. "How can Apple get away with it? Because it is the sole gateway to the more than 40 million iPhones that have been sold."

Von Lohmann also pointed out bans on reverse engineering and a ban on altering Apple software or services in any way, such as attempts to use open source software. In the terms of the agreement, Apple also reserves the right to disable an application (remotely, if necessary) at any time for any reason. The original document, obtained through filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, is also available for download via the EFF's Web site.

"If Apple's mobile devices are the future of computing, you can expect that future to be one with more limits on innovation and competition than the PC era that came before. It's frustrating to see Apple, the original pioneer in generative computing, putting shackles on the market it (for now) leads," von Lohmann concluded. "If Apple wants to be a real leader, it should be fostering innovation and competition, rather than acting as a jealous and arbitrary feudal lord. Developers should demand better terms and customers who love their iPhones should back them."

Earlier this month, Apple made headlines after the company decided to remove a variety of applications designed to find WiFi hotspots the device can connect to. These "stumbling" apps run on a private application programming interface (API), which Apple has been known to reject in the past. The reports came on the heels of Apple's decision to remove a slew of applications featuring potentially offensive or suggestive adult content.