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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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  • flushing apps (Score:5, Interesting)

    by halfEvilTech ( 1171369 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:05AM (#29693287)

    I don't see why it would be to hard to do one of the following:

    1) require the binaries to be present when uploading the app, if you back out it doesn't save anything.
    2) give a 7 day grace period to upload the app binaries. If they are not uploaded by then, you forfeit the rights to the name

  • by PrimaryConsult ( 1546585 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:07AM (#29693331)
    Actually a small ($5ish) online fee sounds quite reasonable. It's also a form of quality control, people will ask themselves if their app is truly worth "getting out there" at this point and time before typing in their credit card number...

    Or, you could offer people the option of investing time in it... like you must play a pointless flash game of breakout or minesweeper to avoid losing the app. Next to the "target score" indicator could be a "just pay the fee already" button...

  • by Numbah One ( 821914 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:11AM (#29693393)
    Not really. Since an app has to go through Apple's approval process, Hello World apps that don't actually do what the submitter indicates should not make it into the store. Of course, given the opaque approval process and the number of fart apps that made it in to the store, the approval process is not a guaranteed firewall.

    Apple could them flush the "empty" apps that do not have approved binaries, or at least binaries in the approval process, if they have been empty for more than 3 months or so.

    This is just another thing that Apple, and the Android and Palm folks, will have to deal with. The real fun will be when apps are available on multiple platforms, but have different names because of conflicting approvals processes, squatters, and other things that have not yet surfaced.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:20AM (#29693547)

    Then how can these evil squatters make any money?

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:27AM (#29693673) Journal

    Yep.... I agree completely. This is also where that $100 "entry fee" comes into play as a positive thing... A lot of people were railing against it, initially, as I recall. But by putting up a financial barrier to entry like that, it gives Apple a decent way to make a ban on a specific developer have some "teeth" to it. (If you want to keep spamming the app store with dozens or hundreds of bogus apps, simply to be a squatter, or to bog down the submission process and make Apple look bad, or ?? -- at least it's gonna cost you $100 a pop, each time they discover you and ban you.)

  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:33AM (#29693761) Homepage Journal

    Quite seriously, I suspect most of the squatters aren't in it for the money ... at least not yet. IIRC, it was a few years before people realized what a gold mine domain name squatting could be. Instead, I suspect most of the app name squatters are people who registered the name with the intention of making a real app, maybe registered similar names to prevent confusion, and then abandoned the project. (So, okay, they were in it for the money, but it was the money they hoped to make by selling the app, not by getting someone else to pay them for the name.) Similar things happened a lot in the early days of the web -- remember when there was a better than 50% chance that clicking on any random link would take you to an "under construction" banner? -- and to some degree they still happen on Sourceforge, although the system there is set up a little better to prevent the worst such stupidity.

  • Re:not really worse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jours ( 663228 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @11:42AM (#29693909)

    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.

  • by jackspenn ( 682188 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @12:30PM (#29694729)
    Solves everything.

    If I write iApp and you write iApp, my official name will be and yours will be

    You could even let apps default to root domain so you could install the or apps.

    In terms of people/companies trying to use same basic name, it would allow it, but if a copyright or trademark is held then that could be used to prevent copycat or fakes from the market place. Plus since it is domain based it allows people to know who actually owns the domain and thus application should there be a problem.

    Now because this is relatively simple and straight forward, easily solves the problem, but lacks ... "style" and more importantly doesn't make Apple any additional revenue, I do not expect them to sign off on such a solution. Rather I expect them to impose some sort of filtering or fee based solution instead.

    Now since Google Android is open and evolving faster then iPhone, it may be a better fit for them.


    I believe we will see the iPhone relegated to a small fringe market share of mobile device after it's initial success. With it loosing out to the more open and hardware agnostic Android OS, similar to the sliver OS X holds after losing to Windows for the exact same reasons. Just like how Windows had more Apps, so to will Android. With Android I can do crazy things like program it on Mac, Windows or Linux PC. With Android I can do crazy things like write tether apps, release or install apps outside of market, and allow them run in background or as service. I can even write emulators, run-time environments, etc. By end of year their will be an Android device for all major carriers as it is carrier agnostic, hardware agnostic, IDE agnostic, base computer agnostic, etc.

  • by Brandee07 ( 964634 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @01:18PM (#29695483)

    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.

    This wouldn't actually work for the purposes of the squatters. They need to hold on to a name for the development of a future app. They can't be squatting for the sake of profit because there's no way to tell who wants the name you're squatting on, and therefore no way to extort money out of them for it.

    So, with the assumption that they're squatting on a name for the purpose of maybe using it for something in the future, if they upload a Hello World! app, would Apple let them upload a totally different app later as an update? What about the people who bought the $.99 Hello World! app and were happily enjoying using it to greet everyone they meet, and suddenly they get an app update that makes it into a fart app?!

  • Re:not really worse (Score:2, Interesting)

    by secretcurse ( 1266724 ) on Friday October 09, 2009 @02:20PM (#29696417)
    No, domain squatting adds absolutly no value to the system and you are a fucking douchebag if you think it does. Sure, it's legal. But that doesn't mean you're not an asshole if you're a domain squatter. Stop splitting hairs. You're a domain squatter if you buy a domain that you don't intend to bring to market with a relevant web page. Call it "domain speculation" or whatever the hell else you'd like to call it, but it makes you an asshole who makes the internet a slightly more annoying place.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.