Apple admits full responsibility for removal of Google Voice apps from iTunes App Store

A few weeks ago, Apple removed a number of Google Voice apps from its online app store, creating a storm of controversy in the process. In the wake of Google Voice's removal from the app store, the FCC decided to step in and figure out what exactly was going on. Their chief concern was to figure out if the apps removal was in any way rooted in anti-competitive behavior, and to that end, it sent a letter to Apple asking it a number of questions pertaining to its app review process and why Google Voice was no longer available on the iTunes App Store. As it turns out, Apple shouldered full responsibility for removing the app from iTunes.

A few weeks ago, Apple removed a number of Google Voice apps from its online app store, creating a storm of controversy in the process.  The resulting backlash seemed to be the final straw for many, and even caused a number of high profile individuals in both the tech and Mac world to publicly declare their intentions to switch over to competing phones such as the PalmPre.

At the time, I thought that abandoning the iPhone out of moral protest seemed a bit ill-advised.  After all, why switch to another phone over the removal of an app that you may not have even wanted to use in the first place.  But more importantly, no one was really sure whether AT&T or Apple were behind the removal of Google Voice apps, so any drastic response from tech enthusiasts seemed a bit premature.

In the wake of Google Voice's removal from the app store, the FCC decided to step in and figure out what exactly was going on.  Their chief concern was to figure out if the apps removal was in any way rooted in anti-competitive behavior, and to that end, it sent a letter to Apple asking it a number of questions pertaining to its app review process and why Google Voice was no longer available on the iTunes App Store.  In addition, the FCC also sent letters of inquiry to both AT&T and Google.

Yesterday, the 3 tech heavyweights all sent their response letters back to the FCC and to say that their answers were enlightening would be a gross understatement.

AT&T put any doubts about their involvement with the Google Voice removal to rest.  Their letter reads in part,

AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did it offer any view one way or the other. More broadly, AT&T does not own, operate or control the Apple App Store and is not typically consulted regarding the approval or rejection of applications for the App Store or informed when an application is approved or rejected.

And in a move completely out of left field, Apple decided to post its answers to the FCC inquiry on its website, completely available for everyone to see.  For a company as seemingly closed off as Apple, this move was wholly unexpected and surprising. 

In their response, Apple takes full responsibility for the removal of Google Voice apps from iTunes, though notes that the app wasn't rejected, but was simply removed, perhaps temporarily, so that Apple can make a more informed decision on the matter.

Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail. Apple spent a lot of time and effort developing this distinct and innovative way to seamlessly deliver core functionality of the iPhone.

Apple then takes full responsibility for the apps' removal:

Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T about whether or not to approve the Google Voice application. No contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T have been a factor in Apple’s decision-making process in this matter.

The rest of Apple's response, which is definitely recommended reading, sheds some light on Apple's app store review process and the limited role, if any, AT&T has in voicing opinions about which apps make it onto iTunes.

While it remains to be seen what happens next in this ongoing saga, it's nice to see that Apple is finally opening up.  Even if you think Apple is acting in the wrong, its a pleasant surprise to see it post its answer up on the web.  The lack of transparency has been a huge thorn in Apple's side, and is often one of the chief complaints about how it runs its online app store.

Hopefully next time, Apple won't wait for another FCC inquiry before it informs the masses about the reasoning behind its oft-criticized decisions.

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