Removal of App Store's first emulator leaves more questions than answers

Posted:
in iOS edited April 15

The controversial GBA4iOS clone that hit the top of the App Store is gone, and the rules Apple cited for its removal leave us with more questions than answers about the future of emulators on the platform.

Smartphone screen displaying app info for 'iGBA: GBA & GBC Retro Emulator' with a 'Get' button, on a keyboard background.
Emulator app iGBA is accused of copying another developer's work without license



Shortly after Apple changed its App Store rules to allow for game console emulators to be submitted, the first few are beginning to become available. However, one of them, iGBA, is now accused of being a knock-off of GBA4iOS by Riley Testut.



Posting on Mastodon, Testut goes on to say that he is not criticizing iGBA developer Mattia La Spina, only Apple. He is frustrated that "Apple took the time to change the App Store rules to allow emulators, and then approved a knock-off of my own app -- even though I've been ready to launch Alt Store with Delta since March 5."

Alt Store has reportedly been in Testflight for a year. So an App Store reviewer would have had the ability and time to compare iGBA with Delta, Testut's latest version of GBA4iOS, if they knew to look.

With thousands of apps being submitted, it's easy to see how one reviewer could miss that a near-identical app was in Testflight. However, AppleInsider confirms that there are elements of iGBA that should have raised concerns at the review stage.

For instance, the app features location tracking when there is no game-related reason for it. Plus users report that the game, while free to download, is replete with ads.

Testut does make his code open-source, but there is a condition that limits the license.

"I explicitly give permission for anyone to use, modify, and distribute all my original code for this project in any form, with or without attribution, without fear of legal consequences," says his licence on Github "unless you plan to submit your app to Apple's App Store, in which case written permission from me is explicitly required."

Neither Apple nor the developer of iGBA have commented publicly. However, following reports of the app breaking Testut's licence, it has been removed from the App Store.

However, this is a further example of apps, even fraudulent ones, getting on the App Store when Apple's review team should catch them. It comes, too, as Apple decries having been forced to allow alternative app stores in the EU, because it says that they are inherently unsafe.

The removal of iGBA



On Sunday evening, the controversial app was removed. Apple cited the two sections of the App Store review guidelines, over copyright violations and spam. Spam seems the easiest to codify, given the volume of ads on the app.

However, copyright violations is harder to quantify. This may be over misuse of open source code, but it may be about the ability for users to load their own ROM files.

As we've mentioned before, the concept of emulation is legal. What is not legal is using ROM files that the user does not own, or source code from the manufacturers to make the emulators.

Apple's specific requirements say that add-ons and ROMs must comply with several guidelines, and all applicable laws. So, the specifics of the copyright violation part aren't clear.

Time will tell what Apple's actual stance is on the matter. It will take more emulators to get submitted for publication -- and more approvals or rejections -- to suss out Apple's stance on user-loaded ROM files.

Updated 4/15 6:26 AM Added more discussion about the removal of the iGBA app.



Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,913member
    Posting on Mastodon, Testut goes on to say that he is not criticizing iGBA developer Mattia La Spina, only Apple. He is frustrated that "Apple took the time to change the App Store rules to allow emulators, and then approved a knock-off of my own app […]”
    Says hes not criticizing the developer, but goes on to say they’re a knock-off of his app. Then you…are…criticizing the other app developer as well. Either it’s an unscrupulous knock-off of the real deal, or it’s a legitimate, respectable app. 

    williamlondonwatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 2 of 15
    I’m not criticising emulators.  I’m a big emulator user myself.  But for an emulator developer to be moanjng like this is rather amusing 
    pulseimageswatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 3 of 15
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,530member
    Apple do themselves no favours whatsoever with their vetting process.

    Every week you hear stories of dodgy apps, most far worse than this one, slipping through into the App Store.

    For a company that makes such an insane amount of money every single day out of apps you’d think they’d do a better job… fucking amateur hour.
    williamlondonAlex1N
  • Reply 4 of 15
    Does the developer want Apple to personally stalk him look at everything he does and compare to everything submitted to the App Store by everyone ever just on the off chance someone copies him? He needs to take action himself against the person who submitted the emulator that used his code without permission if they refuse to cease use of it. He can also advise Apple of it requesting a take down, but it’s not Apple’s job to monitor every possible copyright violation ever, who does this guy think he is?
    teejay2012williamlondonwatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 5 of 15
    The emulator is in the clear... Riley added the condition to the license after this was released, and it's questionable that the restriction is even allowed on a GPLv2 licensed app.

    It's a reaction to their app being published by someone else, but there's nothing wrong with doing it.

    Morally questionable by the iGBA developer? Yes, but not illegal or violating any licenses.

    gba4ios is GPLv2 licensed
    edited April 14 AUsernameAlex1N
  • Reply 6 of 15
    AUsername said:
    Does the developer want Apple to personally stalk him look at everything he does and compare to everything submitted to the App Store by everyone ever just on the off chance someone copies him? He needs to take action himself against the person who submitted the emulator that used his code without permission if they refuse to cease use of it. He can also advise Apple of it requesting a take down, but it’s not Apple’s job to monitor every possible copyright violation ever, who does this guy think he is?
    but the iGBA developer used the code within the license... AppleInsider is incorrectly claiming it was used without license.
    AUsernameAlex1N
  • Reply 7 of 15

    The developer of Gameboy emulator GBA4iOS says the top-ranking version on the App Store is a fraudulent knock off of his work that Apple should not have approved.

    Smartphone screen displaying app info for iGBA GBA  GBC Retro Emulator with a Get button on a keyboard background
    Emulator app iGBA is accused of copying another developer's work without license



    Shortly after Apple changed its App Store rules to allow for game console emulators to be submitted, the first few are beginning to become available. However, one of them, iGBA, is now accused of being a knock-off of GBA4iOS by Riley Testut.



    Posting on Mastodon, Testut goes on to say that he is not criticizing iGBA developer Mattia La Spina, only Apple. He is frustrated that "Apple took the time to change the App Store rules to allow emulators, and then approved a knock-off of my own app -- even though I've been ready to launch Alt Store with Delta since March 5."

    Alt Store has reportedly been in Testflight for a year. So an App Store reviewer would have had the ability and time to compare iGBA with Delta, Testut's latest version of GBA4iOS, if they knew to look.

    With thousands of apps being submitted, it's easy to see how one reviewer could miss that a near-identical app was in Testflight. However, AppleInsider confirms that there are elements of iGBA that should have raised concerns at the review stage.

    For instance, the app features location tracking when there is no game-related reason for it. Plus users report that the game, while free to download, is replete with ads.

    Testut does make his code open-source, but there is a condition that limits the license.

    "I explicitly give permission for anyone to use, modify, and distribute all my original code for this project in any form, with or without attribution, without fear of legal consequences," says his licence on Github "unless you plan to submit your app to Apple's App Store, in which case written permission from me is explicitly required."

    Neither Apple nor the developer of iGBA have commented publicly.

    However, this is a further example of apps, even fraudulent ones, getting on the App Store when Apple's review team should catch them. It comes, too, as Apple decries having been forced to allow alternative app stores in the EU, because it says that they are inherently unsafe.



    Read on AppleInsider

    At least do a little research into the issue... Riley added the terms to the license recently, but that doesn't change the terms of the code retroactively.  iGBA is absolutely used under the GPLv2 license that GBA4iOS was released under.

    Morally questionable? Perhaps, but certainly not used without license.

    You also link to the repository for Delta, iGBA is based on GBA4iOS

    I do not believe it's allowed to impose additional restrictions like this on a GPL-licensed app either, and it just seems like a knee-jerk reaction from Riley.
    edited April 14 avon b7AUsernamebeowulfschmidtwatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 8 of 15
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,414member
    "However, this is a further example of apps, even fraudulent ones, getting on the App Store when Apple's review team should catch them. It comes, too, as Apple decries having been forced to allow alternative app stores in the EU, because it says that they are inherently unsafe."

    There are around 1.8 million apps in Apple's App Store. Are you implying that a human driven process with a massive volume of inputs should have a zero error rate? I'm unaware of anything done by humans being done without errors. Even automated processes performed by machinery or anything called "smart" is only as error free as the human who wrote the program that controls the automation. 

    Saying something "should" be done without error is like saying that a specific outcome. or result is "possible" with something. It has no statistical relevance, unlike probability and error rates that can be used quantify the likelihood that something occurring based on influencing factors at some point in time. Rather than saying that Apple should catch these errors we should be asking what is Apple's error rate on allowing apps that should not be admitted into the App Store getting in there anyway. And asking why those apps got in, i.e., what went wrong or failed in the process. And fixing it. Humans exist in the world of reality and "should" is a great target, but us shaved monkeys are born to make mistakes. Even our DNA has mistakes in it. We're born flawed.

    Is Apple justified in saying that anything that bypasses their own processes, which have been shown to exhibit errors at some non-zero rate that we don't know about inherently unsafe? No. Apple using the word "inherently" is not only overstating the performance of their own vetting process but also understating the performance of any other alternative vetting processes. Neither Apple nor alternative store curators are without an ability to do some things correctly and other things incorrectly. At the very best, Apple should quantify their claims by providing of the error rate of their own vetting process, i.e., they observed an N% error rate (errors per submission) over time. They could also provide backing data that shows how their error rates have trended over time. Hopefully they have continually trended downward.

    As far as I know, the alternative app stores have no data to show their performance at this time. 

    Apple can honestly say that because these "new" store curators have no data to prove their worthiness and no error rate or performance data they are inherently "unproven" and Apple considers their lack of performance data to be a cause for concern and a source of risk. This is a fully justifiable position for Apple and Apple's customers to take at this time. Apple has a lot of confidence in their own track record but absolutely no basis for asserting any level of confidence with alternative app stores. It's still a journey into the unknown from Apple's perspective. The probability of something bad happening as a result of Apple being forced into submission by well-intentioned but embarrassingly naive regulators is no longer zero. We don't know what the risk it now is, but it isn't zero. They've created a new entry point into Apple customer's systems where it did not previously exist. Of course all the existing imperfect entry points are still there.

    This really comes down to us, Apple's customers. I suspect most of us have established some level of trust with Apple based on our experience with them over several years. We wouldn't keep buying Apple stuff if we didn't trust Apple. In a world of frequent security, privacy, and financial losses caused by us placing our trust in others who have proven to be unworthy (I got my AT&T account breach notification yesterday), we have to choose who we trust based on something, like historical  and current performance. Of course this doesn't mean that Apple will never fail us, because they probably will due to their unavoidable imperfections, but for now entering into a trust relationship with someone who's unproven is absolutely a risk. For me, there needs to be a suitable balance between risk and reward. I simply have not seen anything on the reward side that would compel me to take on more risk, at least from an unproven App Store curator. Maybe this will change over time and I'll appreciate those who took the arrows for us, but for now I'm sticking exclusively with Apple when it comes to buying apps. I'm simply hoping that the bad guys don't come storming into my safe space as a consequence of Apple's subjugation by the EU. Thank you EU ... for nothing.

    Do you feel lucky, punk? No I do not.
    edited April 14 watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 9 of 15
    longfanglongfang Posts: 463member
    AUsername said:
    Does the developer want Apple to personally stalk him look at everything he does and compare to everything submitted to the App Store by everyone ever just on the off chance someone copies him? He needs to take action himself against the person who submitted the emulator that used his code without permission if they refuse to cease use of it. He can also advise Apple of it requesting a take down, but it’s not Apple’s job to monitor every possible copyright violation ever, who does this guy think he is?
    Gen Z
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 15
    This story reminds me of my first 'Mac' which was actually an Atari ST computer with a dongle called Spectre created by the legend David Small that plugged into the ST cartridge port. Worked amazingly well to emulate a Mac Plus, but required original 128K ROMs that would physically plug into the dongle plus a Macintosh Operating System 6.0.8 disk . There was a lot of exclusionary, 'you are on your own' text  which transferred the problem of obtaining the Apple ROMs to the purchaser. Despite rumblings of legal challenges, Data Pacific who marketed the dongles was never shut down. I guess the market was too small for Apple to care. I am not sure of the market for vintage Nintendo game ROMs, or why financially Nintendo would care. But I suspect they do care.



    watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 11 of 15
    This story reminds me of my first 'Mac' which was actually an Atari ST computer with a dongle called Spectre created by the legend David Small that plugged into the ST cartridge port. Worked amazingly well to emulate a Mac Plus, but required original 128K ROMs that would physically plug into the dongle plus a Macintosh Operating System 6.0.8 disk . There was a lot of exclusionary, 'you are on your own' text  which transferred the problem of obtaining the Apple ROMs to the purchaser. Despite rumblings of legal challenges, Data Pacific who marketed the dongles was never shut down. I guess the market was too small for Apple to care. I am not sure of the market for vintage Nintendo game ROMs, or why financially Nintendo would care. But I suspect they do care.



    I remember that!  They also made one for the Commodore Amiga, and I still have it somewhere in my stashes of old stuff. I remember it was so tough getting those Roms. Dealers who had broken Macs would NOT sell the Roms and Apple was trying to shut it down. 
    teejay2012watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 12 of 15
    This story reminds me of my first 'Mac' which was actually an Atari ST computer with a dongle called Spectre created by the legend David Small that plugged into the ST cartridge port. Worked amazingly well to emulate a Mac Plus, but required original 128K ROMs that would physically plug into the dongle plus a Macintosh Operating System 6.0.8 disk . There was a lot of exclusionary, 'you are on your own' text  which transferred the problem of obtaining the Apple ROMs to the purchaser. Despite rumblings of legal challenges, Data Pacific who marketed the dongles was never shut down. I guess the market was too small for Apple to care. I am not sure of the market for vintage Nintendo game ROMs, or why financially Nintendo would care. But I suspect they do care.



    I remember that!  They also made one for the Commodore Amiga, and I still have it somewhere in my stashes of old stuff. I remember it was so tough getting those Roms. Dealers who had broken Macs would NOT sell the Roms and Apple was trying to shut it down. 

    That was a pretty sweet machine for its time. 8bitGuy has some really nice Amiga restoration videos if you wanted to check out.
    watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 13 of 15
    danoxdanox Posts: 2,953member

    Emulation programs are basically piracy, nothing good will come out of hosting them for Apple (deep pockets) other than more lawsuits from a different angle. 
    Will Apple also need to keep track of who owns what Rom too.
    edited April 15 watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 14 of 15
    I’m not criticising emulators.  I’m a big emulator user myself.  But for an emulator developer to be moanjng like this is rather amusing 
    Do tell.  No really. Details.  And talk about how open source licenses work. 
    Alex1N
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