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Apple’s Virtual Currency Policy Update: Good or Bad for Bitcoin?

(@danielcawrey) | Published on June 3, 2014 at 07:07 BST

Amid the excitement surrounding Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, there were a few updates made to Apple’s App Store Guidelines – some of which concerned the use of ‘virtual currencies’ in the iOS ecosystem.

While it is intriguing that additional information regarding the use of virtual currencies was added, it doesn’t necessarily mean acceptance. In fact, it might actually mean more pronounced and detailed rejection.

Purchasing and currencies

One new addendum commonly being cited is the rule under “purchasing and currencies”, specifically rule 11.17. It states:

“Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions.”

The wording of this means that Apple still has authority to reject bitcoin apps. And bitcoin wallets, by Apple, are generally rejected when they include sending functionality.

The idea of “approved virtual currencies” suggests that Apple is keeping tabs on such currencies in order to permit specific use.

Also, the use of the word “compliance”, and the regulatory situation many bitcoin companies operate in, many of them without regulatory approval, affords Apple additional scrutiny.

Yet some bitcoin companies might dispute this.

Gliph is one such firm, and late last year its messaging app had its bitcoin-sending features abruptly removed. In a blog post regarding the policy updates, Gliph stated:

“Gliph has been on the front line of getting bitcoin sending into the App Store. Our company maintains that it is acting within existing state and federal regulations around the transmission of bitcoin currency.”

Hope for app developers

The wording of “virtual currencies” in Apple’s guidelines may send some people’s emotions aflutter for bitcoin wallets on iOS.

But Apple might just be laying down the law with this statement, rather than loosening up.

“I think they just put a very specific policy on it. It seems like they updated so that they could be clear to all potential bitcoin companies,” said Lamar Wilson, who owns iPhone wallet app, Pheeva.

Wilson uses a sign-up process that puts users into a private cooperative, thus enabling him to skirt Apple’s rules on actually sending bitcoin funds from within apps.

“We’d love to launch a full app in the store, at some point. But launching the app would not negate our relationship with the cooperative at all,” he said.

Blockchain.info, one of the largest wallet providers, had its bitcoin app removed from the App Store earlier this year. Yet the company is hopeful that there will be positive developments related to the policy updates.

Blockchain.info's wallet traction - non mobile. Source: Blockchain.info
Blockchain.info’s wallet traction – non mobile. Source: Blockchain.info

Dan Held, Director of Product at Blockchain.info, told CoinDesk:

“The language used doesn’t clearly define what requirements Apple sees as ‘approved virtual currencies’ or what they may stipulate as fully compliant. We are fully exploring this opportunity and sincerely hope that Apple will be lenient in their interpretation.”

No change?

Gliph, which had bitcoin sending functions on iOS removed at the behest of Apple last year, continues to keep watch over the situation.

Rob Banagale, the company’s CEO, makes note of another update to the policy that most people are perhaps overlooking.

Under Use of the In-App Purchase API, in Section 2.2, the Apple policy states that there are restrictions on currencies.

“You may not enable end-users to purchase Currency of any kind through the In-App Purchase API.”

This policy includes, “Currency for exchange, gifting, redemption, transfer, trading or use in purchasing or obtaining anything within or outside of Your Application.”

It goes on to add a definition of currency as follows:

“’Currency’ means any form of currency, points, credits, resources, content or other items or units recognized by a group of individuals or entities as representing a particular value and that can be transferred or circulated as a medium of exchange.”

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. Many developers seem optimistic about the clarification, yet, at the same time, those who have to deal with repeated rejections from Apple seem to think little has actually changed.

The company is well-known for believing it can curate an experience that users cannot get anywhere else. But users can get one thing elsewhere – a fully functional bitcoin wallet. And the latest announcement may be, at least, some recognition that there is demand for that.

iPhone maze image via Canadapanda / Shutterstock

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