back to article Maker of crowd-sourced coronavirus spread tracker app sues Apple for 'arbitrary and capricious' iOS store snub

The maker of a disallowed iOS app called Coronavirus Reporter has sued Apple claiming the iPhone overlord's refusal to approve the software violates America's antitrust law. In a complaint [PDF] filed in the District of New Hampshire on Tuesday, Keith Mathews, a lawyer with Associated Attorneys of New England, states that the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good luck.

    Apple said they wouldn't accept a virus tracking app unless made by a reputable source. You claim you have multiple such sources working on your app. Prove it - list them by name so your claim can be verified. If you refuse to do so then Apple is well within it's rights to disallow your unvalidated app. You only damage your own case by mentioning the app that got "first out the gate" as having been made by reputable scientists from a medical institution. Who is Apple going to trust - medicos that openly put their money (names) where their mouth is, or some anonymous whiner suing because they don't get to scream "First post!"?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Good luck.

      Even though the app looks to be of questionable utility – it's basically just a mashup – it's difficult to argue why it should be banned when hundreds, if not thousands, of similar, in the sense that they rely on people providing information along with their GPS, apps are available. As long as the app itself isn't mailicious and the provider is handling data correctly, it's difficult to argue that the ban isn't discriminatory, which is key for whether Apple has the right to do this.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Good luck.

        Because this is sensitive medical information, in effect.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Good luck.

          Users are free to post what they want in the knowledge it will be published, so this wouldn't be relevant to GDPR even if it was in the EU, which isn't. The app itself is not that different in principle, let's say, from a weather tracking app. It wouldn't surprise me if there weren't a myriad of similar apps for colds, etc.

          In the US the problems would arise if the app were making claims based on the data submitted. But even then it would be the FDA who decides. Letting the various app stores act as gatekeepers is a problem.

    2. needmorehare

      Did you read the filing?

      To quote it: "Apple was then provided with supporting and sponsorship documentation from Coronavirus Reporter’s Chief Medical Officer, a former Chief Physician at NASA during the Space Race, and the former President of multiple world-renowned academic medical centers. "

      If what is claimed is true, Apple did a dirty on someone for no valid reason again. It's an antitrust suit which seems pretty valid to me as it's not based on lost profits but is being filed on principle. They're only asking for $75,000 in damages and relief in the form of issuing "a permanent injunction under the Sherman Act restraining Defendant’s App Store from restricting reasonable applications from access to the global internet" which is fair enough.

      This is basically a decent version of the Epic Games lawsuit filed by developers who put people before profit. I can see them getting a helping hand from others very quickly, resulting in Apple having a hard time.

      1. Cuddles

        Re: Did you read the filing?

        "If what is claimed is true"

        That is, of course, the question. Is what they claim actually true? As the article notes, the filing doesn't actually say who this Chief Medical Officer actually is. Maybe they did tell Apple and they weren't considered a reputable institution in their own right. Maybe they didn't tell Apple at all. Presumably at some point we will find out, because at this point it certainly doesn't sound like enough information to support a lawsuit.

        If nothing else, it's notable that a Chief Physician during the space race would likely be at least in their 90s by now, and therefore unlikely to be actively working much either on medical or app-related things. Without further information it looks suspiciously like trying to stick a famous name on something without them actually having much involvement.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Did you read the filing?

          "a former Chief Physician at NASA during the Space Race,"

          Well, there can't have been that many of them and as you say, some would be quite old by now if still alive, reducing the number a good investigative journo needs to contact and speak to. Or even "reach out" to :-)

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Good luck.

      The app is also a privacy nightmare. I wouldn't have touched it with a barge pole!

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    There are 2 things to take into account

    One, Apple did indeed do a dirty by disallowing that app but allowing a very similar app from a group of hospital employees.

    Hospital employees are generally not programmers. I would have more trust in an app made by actual programmers. In this case, of course, said programmers would have had to have some oversight in privacy protection measures and maybe medical counsel as well. I did not see that that was specified.

    Two, a claim filed by an apparently non-existing "company" who does not identify a single person in the company, doe snot come forward with the list of its employees, partners or collaborators who worked on the app, and can apparently only be reached by calling the CEO of another company is not exactly a brilliant confidence generator.

    So, as much as I'd like to harp on Apple for once again changing the rules after the fact to suit itself, the shady side of the complainant makes me side with Apple.

    If you're honest, you're not supposed to hide stuff when filing a complaint in court.

    1. 96percentchimp

      Re: There are 2 things to take into account

      I suspect that the British app they're referring to is the Covid-19 Symptom Tracker, produced by health science company ZOE to support research led by Professor Tim Spector at King's College London. It was instrumental in tracking the early spread of the pandemic in the UK (I don't know about its USA usage) and lead to the identification of several unusual symptoms as well as the emergence of 'Long Covid'.

      OTOH, the company behind Coronavirus Reporter sounds extremely shady. Apple might indeed be capricious in the way they enforce their App Store rules, but I don't think this was a bad call.

  3. gobaskof

    Dammed if you do dammed if you don't

    Not a fan of Apple. Not a fan of the walled garden or the control the exert over "their ecosystem". But given the way they already act as gatekeepers for the stated reason of protecting their customers, it is inevitable that they were going to control COVID apps as many will be stupid and dangerous. Was this one stupid and dangerous? Probably, but even if not I have some sympathy for them that this is not an easy topic to assess, and it all happened very suddenly.

    I think the problem goes back to the store monopoly and a lack of regulation/guidance. If you, as a private company, set yourself up as the arbiter of what is trusted and safe, and what is not, then it is inevitable that you are going to get challenged. If you allow users the freedom to load apps or other app stores through other means then the ones that really want a stupid and dangerous app can get it. And if the app is stupid and dangerous enough then it should probably be a government agency not a company that has the authority to shut down the service.

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