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Squatters Abusing iPhone App Store 121

An anonymous reader sends in a new report on a not-so-new problem, one that has had little visibility so far. A quirk in the way Apple's iPhone App Store works has enabled squatters to move in, and in fact has encouraged legimate developers to grab and squat on dozens of app names that they might use some time in the future. "It turns out you can exploit the registration process to gain ownership of as many app names as you like, without any intention of actually writing a single line of code. 'A developer can pretend to submit an app, but abandon their submission at the last moment, avoiding the need to actually create an application, but keeping hold of the app's name. In limbo. Maybe forever.' says iPhone app developer Atomic Antelope, who found that their app name 'Twitch' and its variations were stuck in limbo . 'Squatters have moved into the app store. They're worse than domain name squatters though, because you can't even enter into negotiation with them. You don't know who they are, or where they are.'" The solution seems simple: for Apple to flush all the apps that have not submitted binaries, and to repeat periodically.
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Squatters Abusing iPhone App Store

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday October 09, 2009 @10:59AM (#29693173) Journal

    The solution seems simple: for Apple to flush all the apps that have not submitted binaries, and to repeat periodically.

    Simple solution needs a simple response: compile Hello World! tutorial app and name it XYZ app and upload it to your desired squatter name. Use same binary or recompile for tiny differences to avoid sum checking. You have a complex problem that no simple solution will fix. Anything short of charging a nominal fee (a la domain registration) will probably not work and the fee idea is a horrible one for people who just want to get their app out there. If it doesn't cost money, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate. Ball's in your court.

  • Simpler solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:05AM (#29693299) Homepage

    Your name isn't accepted until your product is accepted to the App Store. This way Apple have to approve both the name and the application so if you create an application that just prints out "hello world" but call it "GPS navigation" then it gets bounced because the name is wrong.

    Sure this means people will bleat and complain about Apple rejecting names sometimes but it would remove the problem of squatting.

  • by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:06AM (#29693315)
    Wouldn't a shitty ap like that get rejected since it doesn't do fuck all? Plus they'll prolly get charged or lose their account if they are forcing apple to check aps that are obviously BS.
  • not really worse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:14AM (#29693443) Homepage Journal

    They're worse than domain name squatters though, because you can't even enter into negotiation with them.

    The way I look at any "hostage situation" is that negotiation is what gives them their power. If you refuse to negotiate with them, and they know that negotiation isn't an option, it severely limits what they can do or what benefits they can reap from their actions. Look at china, they have a simple rule, they do not negotiate with criminals under any circumstances. You don't see anywhere near the hostage-ish problems over there because any criminal knows they have little to gain.

    Its the same way with domain squatting. The reason they do it is so they can extort or gouge you for a fortune to get the name because they can negotiate with you. If it wasn't possible for them to contact you or you to contact them to negotiate, domain squatting wouldn't be 1/100th the problem it is now. The LAST thing in the world the ITMS needs is some way for a squatter to be contacted by someone that wants the name.

    The solution here is as the article mentions, the same thing that was done to domain tasting recently, for Apple to make it impractical by limiting how long someone can squat without using the name.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:14AM (#29693447) Journal

    Why would a single developer (aka $100 fee) submit dozens or hundreds of apps at one time? With a 2 week turnaround it would make sense to only allow a handful (5?) apps to be submitted and waiting for approval by a single developer at once.

  • Re:EASY solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Skraut ( 545247 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:17AM (#29693485) Journal
    Right, like Apple needs a financial incentive to reject applications...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:26AM (#29693655)

    Actually, for many developers, any fee at all is a discouragement to the development process. Why would I want to pay just to have my app submitted for approval when there's a very real chance that it'll just get rejected? Would the fee just be to create the app "parking spot" or would it be for each submission? If the former, it's not really a discouragement to the squatters if they think they can figure out how to sell those names to devs. If the latter, you've just eliminated most of the devs that work on iPhone apps.

    Of course, I personally think that the entire app process with Apple is ridiculous. So I may be a little biased on the whole subject.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:32AM (#29693745)

    The problem is us humans. We all know statistically that there is going to be a percentage of us that, no matter what is done, will find a way to be the low-life scum-sucking dirt bag we're all capable of.

    And let's be honest with each other, can Apple HONESTLY check all these apps for approval? It's impossible. There is no way they invest enough money to check all these programs released... over 70,000, yeah right.

    They need to start using the user review system more which unfortunately is also run by the same type of person I mentioned before. I hate squatters with all my being but is there are way around them... not in a free, capitalistic way there isn't and I'm willing to live with them in order for freedom.

  • by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:36AM (#29693821)

    So lets see... we now have:

    - App name squatting
    - List jockeying (continuous updates to apps with no description of what was actually changed)
    - List flooding (releasing dozens of variations of the same app with only minor differences... like a picture of a kitty!)
    - Born-again apps (repeated removal and relaunching of the same app over and over)

    Did I miss anything else?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:41AM (#29693887)

    I thought the whole point of the AppStore was to bless apps before they're posted. How does Apple anoint a nonexistent binary?


  • by JorDan Clock ( 664877 ) <> on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:43AM (#29693931)

    If the account has lots of titles and no applications or lots of tiny do nothing, similar sized programs, purge and ban.

    Whoa there. A solution like that would remove over 90% of the App Store.

  • by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:45AM (#29693973)

    The problem is that people will be assholes no matter what system you use.

    Unfortunately that's true of any problem.

  • by insertwackynamehere ( 891357 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:48AM (#29694023) Journal
    There is a VERY strict vetting process that causes many legitimate developers to go back to the drawing board time and time again. That would not work.
  • by m.ducharme ( 1082683 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:50AM (#29694065)

    If the account has lots of titles and no applications or lots of tiny do nothing, similar sized programs, purge and ban.

    Whoa there. A solution like that would remove over 90% of the App Store.

    I don't see why that's a problem.

  • by Elshar ( 232380 ) <elshar@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:55AM (#29694167) Journal

    I take it you have never used the app store. I could see it working beautifully.

  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:56AM (#29694185)

    As opposed to "flashlight" programs that merely turn the screen white?

    An app doesn't have to do much to get accepted at the app store. It's more about things that apps CAN'T do that will get them rejected.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <> on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:57AM (#29694197)

    There is no simple solution, really.

    Periodic flushing? Well, what if your app takes a long time to develop? Maybe you weren't thinking of a simple 99-cent app, but something that's more than a novelty? If you flush too often, you discourage people from these kinds of apps because now they have to keep reserving it, and someone else can snatch it. This applies to anything - big devs or small. And you can't say "let's make it once a year" - people being squatted don't want to wait a whole year. But "let's make it monthly" means apps undergoing slow development have to bear the burden.

    Flush apps with no binaries? Same issue - dev will just submit a skeleton app to hold it off.

    Limit of X apps/year? Well, that's just silly. Microsoft can pull it off, but the next /. headline you'll see is "Apple Limits Devs to 5 Apps". Sure it may help to avoid doing the next 10,000 flashlight and fart apps, but geez, that seems low and arbitrary. Good devs may find themselves caught in this as well - that's over 2 months of development per app, and some useful apps just don't command that sort of development time. Even a reasonable limit has to be rather high - probably around 100?

    First app with name submitted gets it? Well, then you have the patent deal - you deny the guy who submitted a few minutes later an app with the same name. There are probably going to be a ton of unintended consequences, too.

    Still, the Apple solution of non-negotiation (by not revealing the squatter's identity) is probably a good one - DNS squatters are in it for money, and they'll sell. Here, the name is reserved, but since you can't negotiate, all the squatter is doing is being an ass. There's no financial incentive to squat on a name because anyone wanting to use it can't find your details and contact you to pay $1000 for the name. So it's costing them $100/year with zero gain. At least domain squatters can get several thousand per name to help pay for the domain registrations. The Apple method leaves them $100 poorer each year - it's not listed on iTunes, there are no ads, and no one can contact you to buy the name.

    Maybe a solution is no developer can hold more than say, 5 names at any one time. Approval of an app removes that name from the list (so they're holding 4 names and can add one). Those extra names can be returned to the pool at any time - for example, a developer creates an app which can go under 5 possible names, then at the last minute they pick one and submits under that name. Since they have no use for the other 4, they can release them so freeing up more reserved name slots for their next app. Big dev houses probably already have multiple dev accounts, so they can reserve multiple names for multiple apps. 5 or 10 names reserved for apps in development ought to be enough. Implement it right (e.g., a dev can test to see if a name is taken before having to give up one of their existing ones) and it may reduce this problem.

    Still - why squat on the names? People can't buy it off of you, so there's no financial incentive (which is why there are so many domain squatters), other than being an ass.

  • by Phisbut ( 761268 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:58AM (#29694225)

    If the account has lots of titles and no applications or lots of tiny do nothing, similar sized programs, purge and ban.

    Whoa there. A solution like that would remove over 90% of the App Store.

    I don't see why that's a problem.

    It would be a huge problem for Apple, as they would no longer be able to claim that there are several tens of thousands of apps available on the app store. It's pretty much like the PS2 vs. other consoles marketing bullcrap. Sure, you've got sooooo many apps (or games) available on your platform, but 95% of them is pure crap.

  • by sohare ( 1032056 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @01:51PM (#29696031)

    Listen, let's not confuse domain squatting - the act of sitting on a company's domain name waiting for them to want to build a web site - with the legitimate secondary market for domain names.

    The former was a big problem "in the old days" as companies were trying to get to the web and found someone squatting on their name. This has been largely solved in the courts now, and few companies are making their first move to the web anymore anyway.

    The secondary market for domains though is completely legit. I buy domain names that I expect to have value, whether I intend to use them or not, and then sell them to others when they want to use them. It's no different than you buying a piece of land and then someday selling it to someone who wants to build a shopping mall on it. You weren't squatting on the land, you just didn't know what (if) you were going to do with it. You paid for it, paid the taxes over the years and then sold it.

    That's just the free market...don't like it, don't shop there.

    Not exactly sure how you were modded insightful. There is a common link between domain squatting and the secondary market. Both are purveyed by douchebags. You give any fool a day and a dictionary and they can create a program which will spit out all kinds of permutations for names of bands, albums, businesses, movies, etc. You are in a heavy metal band and like trolls and swords? Why, let's name it Trollsword and start our website. Oh, but thanks to our friendly insightful secondary market guy, the name has been registered.

    The comparison of domain hoarding (which is what you refer to as the secondary market) to buying land is completely inappropriate. There is a huge difference between buying some swampland and putting the hours into coming up with a cogent plan to make it the next big yuppie vacation spot, hawking this idea to developers compared with just combining a few words from a database. If a plot of land looks like a rubbish heap it doesn't sell for much unless there is some plan to change it. You could maybe argue that domain hoarding is akin to some of the original American land barons. But they were douchebags too. Just like people who hoard water and sell it after some natural catastrophe. Douchebags. I mean a bloddy punk child can come up with these ideas to profit.

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