An Update on the Dash App Situation

Last time we discussed Apple’s removal of Dash from the App Store, the situation around it was murky and still unfolding. Today, some of that confusion has ended with two articles. First, Rene Ritchie of iMore received a statement from Apple:

“Almost 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected across two accounts and 25 apps for this developer so we removed their apps and accounts from the App Store,” an Apple spokesperson told iMore. “Warning was given in advance of the termination and attempts were made to resolve the issue with the developer but they were unsuccessful. We will terminate developer accounts for ratings and review fraud, including actions designed to hurt other developers. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, on behalf of all of our customers and developers.”

That’s quite the accusation. A second account explains why nobody found the low-quality utility apps allegedly from the same developer, and why so many people rallied behind the developer, Bogdan Popescu: there’s just no need to create fraudulent reviews for a well-regarded niche app like Dash.

However, Popescu provided an explanation for the secondary account today:

What I’ve done: 3-4 years ago I helped a relative get started by paying for her Apple’s Developer Program Membership using my credit card. I also handed her test hardware that I no longer needed. From then on those accounts were linked in the eyes of Apple. Once that account was involved with review manipulation, my account was closed.

Popescu recorded a call on Saturday with an Apple developer relations representative. In the call, the representative says that Popescu would have his account reinstated if he wrote a blog post that stated that his account was linked to another that was involved in fraudulent activity, and that he was working with Apple to unlink the accounts and get back into the program. That seems fair. Popescu apparently sent a draft of the post to Apple that night, and heard nothing back until today, when Apple sent the statement to iMore and other press outlets.

John Gruber:

Popescu concludes his response by publishing a recording of a phone call with an Apple representative. Popescu did himself no favors by doing so. For one thing, it’s a breach of trust. But for another, I think Apple comes off well in this recording. They’re bending over backwards to give Popescu another chance and have his account reinstated.

Marco Arment:

It’s also notable that Apple investigated this and tried to resolve it as well as they did. If it were any other company — say, Google for a suspended AdSense or YouTube account — I suspect the amount of effort devoted to it would be much lower.

Agreed on all points.

I don’t think the reaction to the initial news of Dash’s removal was a waste, nor was it outsized. If a developer’s livelihood is largely dependent on the App Store and their apps are well-regarded, any decision from Apple that affects that ought to be scrutinized.

A public fight isn’t ideal from a PR perspective, but it seems like that it’s what it can take to get an adequate answer. In his first post on the subject, Popescu said that he asked developer relations why Dash was removed and didn’t receive an answer initially. They later contacted him and told him about fraudulent activity on his account — something which he maintains that he’s never participated in.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple bans dozens of developer accounts every week for fraud, and almost none of those will be reported because there’s no disputing the facts. Popescu’s case is much more unique: from Apple’s perspective, he was operating two accounts, one of which was dabbling in fraud. Popescu said that he knew nothing about the fraudulent operations of the second account and was unable to see any of Apple’s warnings.

Based on everything released so far, I don’t think Apple made a mistake. As far as they knew, it was the same account with a lot of black marks on its record. However, their process remains opaque enough that it has taken a rather public back-and-forth for Popescu to clarify fundamental aspects of why Dash was pulled. Everyone ought to have learned something here. I do hope Popescu gets his developer account back.

Update: “Frumpsnake” on the MacRumors forum found compelling evidence that Popescu used to manage all of the apps in his two accounts, and that he placed Dash into its own account to try to appear legitimate. Apple would surely have access to his account history, too.

I was clearly too optimistic about the situation with these two accounts, but I stand by what I wrote earlier: I think it’s right to assume the best from the developer, especially since Apple has mistakenly removed apps before. But this is not one of those circumstances.