Nothing like starting the new year off with some last minute developer stress! In 2021, Apple and Google both announced major changes to their app store policies. 

But why? What led them to make such big changes, and why now? Can’t we take a breather at the beginning of the year?

Today, we’ll look back at what made these changes happen, what these changes are, and what you need to do to keep your app above water. 

Grab some coffee and your best headphones – we may need to pull a coding all-nighter!

What led to these changes?

Developer Settlement

At the end of August last year, Apple reached a settlement with a class-action lawsuit formed by developers. The claim was that Apple held a monopoly on who could distribute apps to iOS devices, and therefore control the in-app purchases of said apps. 

Following the settlement,  Apple has clarified that developers can use their own communication channels to share how users could pay outside of the iOS app.

Epic vs Apple vs Google 

But $100 million isn’t the only court case that’s affecting app stores. Last year, Epic Games added a new feature to Fornite Mobile that let consumers pay directly for V-bucks at a discount, as opposed to the full-price ‘app store’ listing.  This would let Epic skip the App Store payment system, which takes a 30% cut of all payments.

As you can expect, this didn’t end well. Apple and Google both removed the game from their stores for violating the app store policies. Google, however, has third-party stores where users could still download Fortnite. But on Apple – players were out of luck. 

Enter the lawsuits: Epic filed against Apple arguing that the policy is anti-competitive. If the policy wasn’t in place, Epic would only share it’s apps in it’s own app store. 

After months of legal-jargon that we won’t bore you with, the final decision ruled in favor of Apple on nine of ten counts – but not all of them. The judge found Apple guilty of anti-steering policies, due to Apple not allowing any mention of payment alternatives within iOS apps.

Side note: Epic also filed a lawsuit against Google with the same claims, but Google has countersued. We won’t know more until the cases go to hearings in 2022. 

Privacy Laws

So there is direct legal pressure for Google and Apple to make changes, but what about indirect? Has there been changes over the last few years that might make ZGoogle and Apple update their policies? Well, if we’re asking, you can bet that the answer is yes.

Concerns about consumer privacy and safety have been growing exponentially in recent times. Users want to know who has access to their information, and how they can keep themselves protected from said accessors. 

And California was the first state to make this legally required. In 2018, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA. This act allows users a right-to-access and a right-to-delete. This means that users get to choose who has access to their data, and businesses must give users the option to opt-out of selling their information. 

While this is the only bill currently in effect in the United States, there are several bills, laws, and acts that are up for votes. These proposed bills are: the Massachusetts Data Privacy Law, the New York Privacy Act, the Hawaii Consumer Privacy Protection Act, the Maryland Online Consumer Protection Act, and North Dakota’s HB 1485. 

This doesn’t even take into account the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It started in April of 2016, and offers rules for how citizens of the EU’s personal information is collected and processed. 

So TLDR: Both Apple and Google are making changes to their app store policies due to being sued, as well as (speculatively) new laws and opinions on consumer data privacy. 

So what are the changes? And how am I affected?

We’re glad you asked! There’s been 5 major changes over the last year. Many Are either already in effect, or go into effect on January 31st, 2022. That’s 24 days from right now (if you’re reading this on release day 1/7/21). 

Change 1 – Outside Contact for Payment

This correlates with the $100 million settlement for developers. Apple removed a sentence form section 3.1.3 of the guidelines, meaning that Developers can now use information from their app to target users outside of said app to share ways users can pay without doing an in-app purchase.

While you don’t have to change anything to stay in compliance here, you can now start reaching out to people to skip the in-app purchase process (if you want to save yourself the 30% app store fee). 

Change 2 – Optional user information

Here’s where you gotta put in some changes. A new guideline has been added to section 5.1.1, which states that apps can ask for basic identifying information (email, name, phone number) from their users, as long as the request is optional. This means that as long as you’re not requiring user info to utilize your app, you’re in the clear. 

But does that mean you can’t even ask for emails or have accounts!? No, thankfully; we’ll talk on account change later on. What this new section is doing is clarifying that areas of your app that are before the account-wall can’t require data to access. For example, you can ask someone if they want to join your email mailing list, but it’s not required to use the app. 

Basically, remove any barriers that keep someone from accessing information if they don’t provide their own first (outside of account, of course). 

Change 3 – Connect Events

More Clarification on the way! Guideline 2.3.13 was added to clarify the criteria for developers who host in-app events in their apps. These events can include in-game competitions, movie premieres, livestream experiences, fitness challenges, and more. If you want to feature your special event within the app store (marketing FTW), You’ll need to do the following:

  • The event must fall within an event type provided in App Store Connect
  • All event metadata must be accurate and pertain to the event itself
  • Events must happen at the times and dates you select in App Store Connect
  • You may monetize your event so long as you follow the rules set forth in Section 3 on Business (Basically if your business model/app’s purpose isn’t obvious, you’ll need to specify)
  • Your event deep link must direct users to the proper destination within your app

So again, not something you have to do, but something you can do; good to know.

Change 4 – Account Deletion 

And here’s the big ticket item that kicks into effect 1/31: account deletion. The other half of 5.1.1 focuses on the account part: if your app has account creation, it must also allow users to delete their account from within the app. 

It’s recommended that you check on any laws that may require them to maintain certain types of data, and to see what specific types of data you keep on file. You’ll have to clearly state somewhere (potentially the privacy information on your product page) what data your app is collecting, how it’s collecting that data, why it’s using that data, where that data is stored, and how that data can be deleted

This is where you should focus your efforts; this change is what’s going to make or break your apps in 2022. If you don’t abide by this rule, your app will most likely be removed from the iOS app store. 

So what exactly do you need to do? Add some information to your privacy information on how you’re handling data, and add an account deletion feature. 

Change 5 – Google Data Safety

Last but not least, we’re focusing on data security via the Google Play Store. All developers must complete a Data Safety form in the Google Play Console. Similar to change 4, the purpose of this is to tell users how your app collects and shares their data before downloading the app. 

The information you put into the form will help generate the new data safety section on the product page. The Data Safety section will become visible to users in February 2022. Meaning you’ll probably want to get it done donner rather than later. If you don’t have it done in time, the section will read “No information available.” 

While this is fine for now, all developers have to provide a Data Safety section approved no later than April 2022. If not, you’ll be in the same boat as before; your app will most likely be removed from the Google Play store. 

Thankfully, Google has a great explanation on their help page on the topic. 

Conclusion

After some legal troubles and policy changes, Apple and Google are updating their policies to better protect user data and offer more payment opportunities for developers. If you’re a developer, you have to make personal information input optional, share privacy & data safety information, and offer account deletion. Optional changes include publicizing events on the app store, and side stepping in-app purchases. 

Best of luck on updating your apps; we hope you’ve got snacks and a long battery life!