Since launching four years ago, Apple’s App Store has been enormously successful and constantly controversial. A staggering 30 billion apps have been downloaded to date. Even considering that many (most?) of those are free, the number is impressive. It’s also concerning, since the App Store is more or less the only shop in town for developers looking to sell their wares to owners of iPhones, iPads and iPods. And in order to get their products on those virtual shelves, they must have their apps approved by Apple’s fickle in-house curators.
Apple says this is all for quality control. Others have cried censorship. After all, Apple has rejected everything from iBoobs and naughty geometry to an app that tells you how much radiation your iPhone is emitting, and another that helps “cure” homosexuality. Clearly, apps get rejected not just for shoddy quality, but on editorial grounds as well. You might say it’s Apple’s store, and they can stock whatever products they want. But how would you feel if your Kindle blocked you from reading books that Amazon disapproved of? (It does, btw.)
None of these concerns have curbed the public’s interest in the App Store, and defenders often cite the upsides to a curated virtual storefront: unlike the scary and scammy open Internet, the App Store is virus and malware free, and everything works as advertised. Just this week, though, this argument weakened.
Apple recently approved and stocked an app called “Find and Call,” a program that supposedly simplifies your contact list, but which has since been identified as malware. Here’s how Wired describes it:
“…a Trojan that steals and uploads the user’s address book to a remote server. Once uploaded, the server then sends spam to the email addresses and phone numbers belonging to the victim’s contacts telling them about the Find and Call application. The app also grabs the GPS coordinates from the victim’s phone and uploads them to the server.”
Apple has since removed “Find and Call,” but the App Store’s woes don’t end there.
Hundreds of well-loved apps have began crashing after being updated. Disgruntled users complained to app developers, who examined their wares and discovered that the fault was not in their code, but in a bug on Apple’s end.
Both of these cases raise an uncomfortable question for Apple: is the App Store getting too big to control? If so, it may grow as buggy and spammy as the Internet itself. At that point, users might start wondering what the upside is to shopping in a policed mall where they are protected from products Apple considers morally unclean, but not from products that are defective or dangerous.
Follow Jesse Brown on Twitter @jessebrown