Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple Claims ‘Amphetamine’ Violates Illegal Drug App Store Policy, Threatens Removal

Amphetamine is a simple free app that sits in the menu bar and keeps a Mac awake — the spiritual successor to Caffeine, which has not been updated in years. It is well-liked; Apple liked it so much they featured it in a Mac App Store story.

So it surely came as a surprise to William C. Gustafson, the app’s developer, when Apple decided that it was in violation of policies that prohibit glorification of controlled substances:

Apple then proceeded to threaten to remove Amphetamine from the Mac App Store on January 12th, 2021 if changes to the app were not made. It is my belief that Amphetamine is not in violation of any of Apple’s Guidelines. It is also my belief that there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way as me, and want to see Amphetamine.app continue to flourish without a complete re-branding.

[…]

Apple further specified: “Your app appears to promote inappropriate use of controlled substances. Specifically, your app name and icon include references to controlled substances, pills.”

I can see how this app could be interpreted as violating those policies. It has a pill for an icon, and amphetamines are controlled substances in most countries. But:

  1. It does not promote drug use any more than the MacOS feature named “Mission Control” gives users the impression they can now work at NASA.

  2. Apple gave this app a dedicated editorial feature in the App Store, thereby increasing awareness of an app called “Amphetamine” — and it is only now that it says the app’s name is incompatible with its policies? That seems like a bait and switch.

I get that App Review might not catch policy violators on a first pass or even after several updates. But surely there comes a time when Apple has to decide that it looks less petty to treat a violation of a policy as minor as this as a special grandfathered case. If an app is featured by the App Store team, Apple ought to suspend their right to complain about superficial rule-breaking — if that is what this is, and I am still not convinced that Amphetamine violates the spirit of those policies.

The slightly good news here is that, unlike an iOS app, the removal of this Mac app would not entirely destroy its existence. It could be distributed outside of the Mac App Store if the developer chooses. But it should be allowed to remain.

Update: Gustafson says that Apple confirmed Amphetamine will stay in the store without a name change. In a parallel universe where this story did not receive press coverage, would the outcome be the same?