EFF Takes Issue with iPhone App Dev License

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EFF Takes Issue with iPhone App Dev License
The Electronic Frontier Foundation got its hands on a version of the iPhone Application Developer Program License Agreement, and the public advocacy group did not like what it saw. The EFF was able to get a copy of Rev. 3-17-09 of the developer agreement through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NASA--a government agency that has developed several iPhone apps. This is reportedly not the latest version of the agreement, but the EFF believes it is recent enough to be indicative of Apple's policies.

Some of the restrictions found in the agreement have been well documented before, such as Apple's prohibition on using trademarks, obscene or explicit content, and apps that use unapproved parts of the iPhone framework.

But the EFF took issue with several other parts of the agreement the watchdog group believes will limit innovation and competition.

Agree to This, But Don't Tell Anyone

Section 10.4 of the agreement says that any developer who agrees to its terms is not allowed to make any public statements about the developer license without Apple's written approval. This troubles the EFF, presumably because it limits access to information about a very popular software development platform.

App Store or Nothing

Apple's licensing terms state in section 3.2 (f) that you can only publicly distribute iPhone apps made with "Apple Software" through the iTunes App Store. Apple defines Apple Software as the iPhone Software Development Kit, the Apple OS and any profiles you make on your iPhone for testing software. Basically, if you make an iPhone app, you are only supposed to sell it on the iTunes App Store.

No Reverse Engineering

You can't use the SKD or other Apple Software to reverse engineer the company's products, according to section 2.6. The EFF doesn't like this since limited amounts of reverse engineering are allowed by law to solve interoperability conflicts that may arise between pieces of software or hardware.

Don't Play with Your Gadget

The EFF says that section 3.2(e) of the licensing agreement says you cannot tinker with any Apple software or technology. This is the part of the agreement that is supposed to stop people from jailbreaking the iPhone, and the EFF argues that it also extends to everything Apple makes. However, the EFF's interpretation may be a bit of stretch, since the terms deal specifically with a prohibition against breaking security protocols and digital rights management (DRM) software.

Apple Can Kill You and Owes You Only $50

Well, not you specifically, but any application of yours sitting in the App Store is there thanks to the whims of Apple, and can by removed at any time, according to section 8.

Apple limits its liability for you under section 14 and says you will only ever get $50 for any damages incurred from your dealings with Apple. This means, as the EFF points out, "if Apple botches an update, accidentally kills your app, or leaks your entire customer list to a competitor, the Agreement tries to cap you at the cost of a nice dinner for one in Cupertino."

Problematic, but it's Not all Bad

While there may be some concerns over Apple's developer licensing agreement, Apple has also taken pains to make sure there are protections in place for developers and iPhone users. Apple, for example, does not have any ownership stake in your iPhone application (i.e. your intellectual property), and there are several requirements for iPhone apps to respect local privacy laws, copyright restrictions and to alert users when using location-based services.

But the EFF's analysis of the agreement also points to some major flaws in Apple's approach to third-party iPhone, and soon iPad, applications. Apple's recent app purges, for example, could be concerning for iPhone developers. Why spend time developing an iPhone app when you're not really sure it will ever be made available to the public? PCWorld's sister publication Macworld experienced firsthand the whims of Apple's app approval process late last year. Problems like this could frustrate developers and drive them to work on other, more open, platforms, such as Google Android or the upcoming carrier-based system.

The other problem is that Apple has set itself up as the only applications retailer for the millions of iPhone and iPod touch users around the world. Next month, Apple will probably expand the iPhone OS user base with the release of the iPad. That means there will be a lot of people out there using Apple products who can only use programs that Apple sees fit to approve.

If Apple wants to prohibit certain applications from its iPhone store, they have every right to do so. But at the same time, it's hard to ignore the fact that Apple is limiting consumer choice. It's not just porn apps I'm talking about either. If you want the Tawkon app that purportedly detects cellular radiation, for example, you won't get it from iTunes, and there are no other legitimate ways to get this iPhone app. Perhaps a better solution would be to allow other app stores to compete with iTunes, and let you, the consumer, decide which retail stores and applications you prefer. I have no doubt that most people would stick with iTunes, but allowing people a different choice would stop the criticisms about Apple's app approval process. Also, developers would not have to worry about whether or not their app would make it into iTunes, since there would be a wider variety of retail outlets willing to sell their applications if Apple turned them down.

If you want to review Apple's developer agreement for yourself, you can download it from the EFF's site.

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