In an inside look at Apple, CNBC has learned from people familiar with the process how the company reviews and approves apps and other iPhone software.
The app review process has grown in importance as Apple increasingly emphasizes its App Store services as a source of revenue and iPhone security as a key selling point.
In addition, Apple’s platform is drawing new scrutiny as politicians and regulators take a more skeptical look at the power of big tech companies. In the United States, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren says that Apple competes with the apps on its own platform. Spotify, the streaming music service that competes with Apple Music, has filed a competition complaint with the EU. And Apple’s own developers for years have chafed under App Review’s sometimes arbitrary rejections and boilerplate feedback.
People familiar with the matter told CNBC that an executive board led by Apple marketing Senior Vice President Phil Schiller meets every week to discuss controversial apps or other iPhone software programs that may infringe Apple’s App Store guidelines.
The “executive review board,” or ERB, sets policy for Apple’s Worldwide Developer Relations department, which is often called App Review. ERB is also the body that makes the final call on whether an app can stay on the store or is banned.
For example, last year, the ERB and Schiller made the decision to ban the Infowars app from the App Store for violating content policies after publishing threats to a reporter, a person familiar with the matter said.
Inside the app review team, Apple employees manually screen every single iPhone app before they become available to download on Apple’s platforms, the people said. Apple recently opened new App Review offices in Cork, Ireland, and Shanghai, China, according to a person familiar with the matter. The department has added significant headcount in recent years, they added.
Last month, Apple published a new webpage that explains the principles that govern the App Store as well as the most common reasons for rejection to show an increased level of transparency over previous years.
“We’re proud of the store we’ve built and the way we’ve built it,” Apple said on the page.
“We created the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers,” it continued.
Apple declined to comment on its app review process.