Key points:

People familiar with the matter told CNBC that every application submission and update on the Apple App Store platform is manually reviewed by the Apple App Review Department.

Difficult approval decisions may be pushed to the "Executive Review Board" (Executive Review Board) led by Apple's vice president of marketing Phil Schiller (PhilSchiller).

Apple said that Apple developed this system to enable Apple mobile phone users to believe that apps downloaded from the App Store are safe and will not be deceived.

CNBC learned from Apple’s internal understanding of Apple’s detailed procedures for reviewing applications and other iPhone software.

With Apple's increasing emphasis on application store services as its source of revenue, mobile phone security is the key point, which has also led to the application review process becoming more and more important.

In addition, as politicians and regulators become more skeptical about the strength of large technology companies, Apple's platform is under new scrutiny. In the United States, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said that Apple competes with apps on its own platform. Spotify, a streaming music service that competes with Apple Music, has filed a competition complaint with the European Union (EU). Over the years, Apple's own developers have been dissatisfied with App Review's sometimes arbitrary rejections and sample feedback.

People familiar with the matter told CNBC that the executive review committee led by Apple's senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller (PhilSchiller) meets weekly to discuss controversial applications or other applications that may violate the Apple App Store guidelines.

The "Executive Review Board" (ERB) sets policies for Apple's global developer relations department, which is often referred to as App Review. The ERB is also the final decision body that determines whether an application can remain in the application store or be banned.

For example, last year, ERB and Schiller decided to remove the application of the conspiracy theory website Infowars from the App Store on the grounds that Infowars had previously threatened a reporter, which violated Apple's content policy.

Within the Apple application review team, Apple employees manually screen each iPhone application before putting it on the Apple platform for users to download. According to people familiar with the matter, Apple recently opened new offices in Cork, Ireland and Shanghai, China. In the past few years, the number of recruits for the team has continued to increase.

Last month, Apple launched a new web page explaining the principles governing the App Store and announced the most common reasons for rejecting developer apps to show that the company is gradually increasing transparency.

“We are proud of the app store we built and the way we built it,” Apple said on the page. “We kept two goals in mind when building the App Store: to be a safe and accessible way for customers to discover and download apps. Trust the platform to create an extraordinary business opportunity for all developers." Apple declined to comment on its application review process.

What is the internal workflow of the audit department?

Any submitted or updated mobile application that wants to be published on the App Store requires manual approval. Although Apple is also using automatic filters, the application review department has always relied on manual application reviews.

Unlike the content reviewers of Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook or YouTube, which rely on tens of thousands of contractors, Apple reviewers are all internal employees. The employees of the audit team are paid by the hour, wear employee badges, and enjoy benefits such as medical insurance. Apple’s reviewers will initially review mobile applications, and then they will receive internal training. As the level of reviewers gets higher and higher, the work content will be expanded from reviewing mobile applications to in-app purchases, subscriptions, and Apple Review of applications such as Watch and Apple TV.

Apple App Review is headquartered in two offices in Sunnyvale, California, and currently has more than 300 reviewers. The headquarters is not established in Apple's new Apple Park or the old headquarters in Infinite Loop. Many reviewers are proficient in non-English languages, and some teams in the department specialize in different languages. Apple said its reviewers speak 81 different languages. Apple says its reviewers can speak 81 different languages.

At Apple, the app review department is part of the marketing business, even before Schiller took over the larger App Store marketing and product department in late 2015. Although Schiller participates in decision-making through the ERB, he rarely goes to the office of the audit committee. And Apple's daily application review management is mainly handled by Ron Okamoto, vice president of global developer relations, and a director. The director joined Apple when it acquired the application testing platform TestFlight in 2015, and his name cannot be disclosed for security reasons. Reviewers said that they sometimes receive threatening feedback from developers.

Apple established an application review department shortly after launching the iPhone App Store in 2008. According to Apple’s response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) document in 2009 and a webpage published earlier this year, Apple established the department with two main goals: to establish a store that convinces customers that applications are safe, and to reach customers for developers. Provide a level playing field in exchange for a 15% to 30% revenue share.

Accept, reject or hold

Reviewers use a portal on the Mac desktop to "claim" a batch of applications. This process is called "application judgment." They often use an iPad connected to a Mac to test applications, even the iPhone application, but they also have sites dedicated to reviewing Apple Watch and Apple TV applications. (Some developers also said that they were surprised to find that their iPhone app showed screenshots on the iPad when communicating with Apple's app review department.)

The reviewers will compare the app with the App Store review guidelines issued by Apple, including ensuring that these apps will not crash and have no illegal content when they are running. The insider said that the reviewer makes a decision in this way-whether to approve, reject or retain the application. Most reviewers will only spend a few minutes on each application, and many applications are relatively simple and only take a short time to review.

The reviewer expects to process 50 to 100 applications per day, and it takes a short time to evaluate most applications. The number of applications that they completed review within an hour is tracked by a software called Watchtower. Apple keeps track of the number of apps reviewed every hour and evaluates them based on the review decision if they are later overturned. The assessment of reviewers also depends on whether their decision will be overturned later and other quality-oriented statistics.

Employees of Apple’s application review department said that working hours can sometimes be long, especially before Apple releases a new version of iOS every year, because application developers have to submit their applications to ensure compatibility with the new system.

One indicator that the application review department pays close attention to is the "service level agreement" (SLA). Apple’s goal is to complete 50% of app reviews within 24 to 48 hours. The reviewer said that when there are a large number of applications waiting to be reviewed, the SLA ratio will drop.

According to an e-mail from a reviewer, on July 30 last year, the SLA ratio dropped to only 6%. The email said: "If you complete all unreviewed applications before you complete it, you will work 12 hours a day. But please note that your daily work time must not exceed 12 hours."

Reviewers usually do not face horror or illegal content on a regular basis, but not one reviewer said that once they found child pornography in a pending application, this application was not approved, and they also reported to the FBI This incident.

So Apple’s bigger concern is that developers will be angry because the extended review process threatens their livelihoods. Some reviewers hope that in addition to providing the same response, they can also share more details with developers or help them guide the revision as soon as possible.

Another reviewer said that sometimes they approved a seemingly legitimate application, but the developer was able to make adjustments on the server to make it a fraudulent application that violated Apple's review guidelines. People familiar with the matter said the reviewers would be criticized for this.

What to do when the application is rejected?

Apple claims that 40% of applications submitted for review or updates will be rejected. Many of these applications will be approved after making minor adjustments, but other applications will face more stringent review decisions.

If developers disagree with the decision of the Apple App Review Team, they can appeal to the App Review Committee. The committee can change the decisions of lower-level reviewers, and some of its members are reviewers with good records. If the appeal still does not solve the problem, the developer can appeal to ERB again.

The vast majority of iPhone apps are rejected for the following common reasons: fraudulent apps, apps with vulnerabilities, or apps that violate user privacy. Many of the rejected apps are related to a Chinese gambling scam called "PK10", or to other obvious forms of fraud.

According to the staff of the app review team, some rejected apps are either in the gray area of ​​Apple’s policy or are publicly sensitive. These rejected apps will be submitted to ERB and handed over to Schiller and other App Store vice presidents. Decided. The documents Apple submitted to the FCC show that since 2009, ERB members have been meeting to discuss application review matters. According to people familiar with the matter, the applications processed by ERB may sometimes pose a threat to Apple's propaganda. Infowars, a well-known application handled by ERB last year. Last year, this broadcast app was taken down because of the release of videos that included threatening journalists. In response to this incident, the application review team held a special staff meeting afterwards.

The reviewer who has worked at Apple said that when the review decision is overturned on appeal or the reason for rejection needs to be explained, someone inside Apple will call the developer. According to Apple, the company makes 1,000 calls to developers every week. Many developers, especially those who get public attention because of complaints about Apple app reviews, receive a contact from a senior Apple veteran. He claimed to be "Bill" but refused to provide his last name.

One reviewer said that large companies like Spotify or Netflix will not receive special treatment. Despite their large companies, the application review process and rules are the same. For example, Spotify's update was rejected because the company sent emails to customers asking them to pay directly to Spotify, bypassing Apple's share mechanism. To this end, Bill had called Spotify.

According to a developer who received the call, Bill also called the parental control app development team about his public complaints about the handling of Apple's app review department.

At Apple, all applications will eventually be submitted to Apple employees for review, and the review decision will be appealed to Schiller.

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