Last week, Apple terminated the developer account of one of my favorite Mac apps, the Dash documentation viewer for programmers, for alleged App Store review manipulation.
Dash is a great app that many Mac and iOS programmers use (and that needs no help getting positive reviews), and developer Bogdan Popescu insisted he’d never engaged in such fraud. Since Apple has a history of controversial App Store decisions that often get reversed after public scrutiny, many developers (including me) came to his defense last week, assuming that someone at Apple had made a mistake, and yelled on Twitter for Apple to reconsider or provide more concrete justification. Michael Tsai has a good overview with more links.
Apple just issued the following statement to a handful of sites, included in this great write-up on iMore about the issues (which you should read in its entirety):
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. 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.
This isn’t enough proof for some, but it’s enough for me. (Some quick searches support Apple’s position, if you’re still unconvinced.)
Like any controversial decision involving people’s livelihoods, Apple probably needs to be careful to avoid potential legal issues, and it would be in poor taste for a huge company to sling more mud than necessary in public against a tiny opponent.
I’m glad our community assumed the best of another developer and pressured Apple to justify this severe action. We should now accept that they have.
The public often doesn’t get the full story behind decisions and changes they see, but it’s usually not for sinister reasons — it’s often just someone taking the high road and letting another party save face.
Bogdan Popescu responded with his side of the story and a recording of a phone call from Apple (without their consent, which is illegal in California, but apparently not in Romania). In summary, he bought another developer account for a relative with his credit card and using his old test devices, which made Apple’s fraud team consider them the same entity (seems reasonable), and that account engaged in the fraud.
His post makes Apple sound pretty bad. But if you listen to the call (which I was torn about whether to do), it’s clear that Apple was being incredibly reasonable and going above and beyond to help him get reinstated and clarify what happened in a public statement, but Popescu didn’t seem to agree with Apple regarding the wording of key facts.
We don’t know what happened between that call and Apple’s statements tonight. I’m guessing Popescu and Apple couldn’t reach an agreement over the wording of the public story, but I think what Apple asked for in that phone call was extremely reasonable.
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.
Y Combinator is extremely influential in tech startups and startup culture.
Peter Thiel, an investor who often participates in Y Combinator, is donating $1.25 million to Donald Trump’s political efforts, which has incited outrage among the tech community with many calling for Y Combinator to sever ties with Thiel.
Y Combinator has apparently decided not to. President Sam Altman defended this position in a blog post, framed as a Clinton endorsement, that begins with a partial overview of how reprehensible and dangerous Trump is, but ends with a defense of continuing Thiel’s involvement in Y Combinator that’s effectively framed as a free-speech or tolerance issue:
Some have said that YC should terminate its relationship with Peter over this. But as repugnant as Trump is to many of us, we are not going to fire someone over his or her support of a political candidate. […]
The way we got into a situation with Trump as a major party nominee in the first place was by not talking to people who are very different than we are. […]
That kind of diversity is painful and unpopular, but it is critical to health of a democratic and pluralistic society. We shouldn’t start purging people for supporting the wrong political candidate. That’s not how things are done in this country.
Altman’s framing of Thiel’s Trump support as a diversity issue isn’t just incorrect — it’s a harmful distortion that reveals a deep misunderstanding of the tech industry’s actual diversity issues. (I don’t and can’t fully understand our diversity problem, but I at least won’t pretend to.)
To help illustrate why, here are some of Altman’s own words from the first half of that same post:
This election is exceptional. Donald Trump represents an unprecedented threat to America…
He represents a real threat to the safety of women, minorities, and immigrants…
Trump shows little respect for the Constitution, the Republic, or for human decency…
I do not understand how one continues to support someone who brags about sexual assault, calls for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US, or any number or other disqualifying statements.
Wrapping reprehensible statements or actions as “political beliefs” doesn’t protect them or exempt their supporters from consequences. Racism is racism. Sexual assault is sexual assault. Labeling reprehensible positions as “political beliefs” is a cowardly, meaningless shield.
But even if such protection existed (it still doesn’t), this isn’t calling for someone to lose their job because they merely voted Republican — the scale of Thiel’s support and the conditions of this particular candidate matter.
Thiel, a non-employee (a “part-time partner”), is directly supporting Donald Trump at a massive scale — over a million dollars! — after we’ve learned even more of Trump’s horrendous statements, positions, and past actions than we could’ve ever imagined.
This isn’t voting for an economic or social policy — this is literally paying a huge amount of money to directly support a racist, sexist bigot with rapidly mounting allegations of multiple sexual assaults.
One more quote from Altman:
If Peter said some of the things Trump says himself, he would no longer be part of Y Combinator.
Funding Trump, especially at this scale, represents general support of what Trump has said and done. If saying what Trump said would be enough to override Altman’s “diversity” argument and sever ties with Thiel, giving over a million dollars to Trump’s campaign should qualify as well.
Y Combinator should be especially sensitive to diversity and inclusion issues due to its public presence and large influence in the technology business. We have so many diversity and hostility problems (that the industry is finally working to fix) that Y Combinator should be leading the way toward inclusive, progressive solutions.
Instead, they’re defending the large-scale support of racism, bigotry, and sexual assault by an influential partner and advisor to their startups as its own form of “diversity”.
Shame on Y Combinator.