Apple has a long history of keeping BitTorrent apps out of the App Store. If you search for “BitTorrent” in the App Store now, only two results show up. Neither of them allow you to actually download torrents.
That’s why it was surprising when an app called Blue Downloader showed up in the store a couple of days ago. Its secret sauce is that it allows users to find and download torrents through sources chosen by its developer, Tyler Harrison, making it hard to use for illegal downloads like grabbing Expendables 3 off The Pirate Bay.
Apple approved Blue Downloader, but after Harrison made a change that allowed searching Google for torrents, the app was suddenly pulled. In an interview with Cult of Mac, Harrison explains how Apple’s response reflects its “innate fear of BitTorent” and his plans to get his app back in the store.
“I saw an untapped market in the App Store and I decided to act upon it,” explains Harrison, who found out about his app’s removal within the last 48 hours. “There had never been a torrent downloader before on the App Store.”
What set Blue Downloader apart from other torrenting clients that have been pulled was how it restricted downloads to legal, open-source sites like Archive.org and Linuxtracker. That combined with the “very vague” description Harrison says he gave Apple may be why it slipped through the initial approval process.
After the app was approved, Harrison tweaked its settings to let it find torrents through Google search. That decision opened the floodgate to all kinds of legal and illegal content. In retrospect, Harrison admits it was “a cheap ploy for me to get downloads.”
“I was nervous about the app’s usefulness and people were not happy about the use of the app,” he explains. “And it really went against what I originally stood for with the app. I don’t believe that the change was the entire reason the app got removed. I believe it was the fear that Apple had a torrent downloader on their store that caused the removal.”
The way Apple enforces its rules is often ambiguous
Like Bitcoin apps, adult content, and other sensitive areas, the way Apple enforces its App Store rules is often ambiguous. The company only recently started allowing Bitcoin apps back into the store, and it still won’t accept apps dedicated to its late CEO and co-founder, Steve Jobs.
Google, on the other hand, allows anything to be installed by the user on Android. There are dozens of torrent-related apps in the Google Play store.
After his app was pulled, Harrison says Apple called him to explain that he had broken rule 22.4 in the App Store Review Guidelines. The rule simply says, “Apps that enable illegal file sharing will be rejected.”
File sharing sites like MEGA can be used to illegally distribute copyrighted content, yet their iOS apps are generally approved. Harrison is quick to point out that even Safari can be used for illegal activity.
Apple has not yet responded to Cult of Mac’s request for comment, but Harrison hopes they will give him a second chance.
“I do have plans on trying to get it back in the store,” says Harrison. “I believe the app didn’t even reach its full potential in popularity, and I think it could have amassed much more of a crowd if it were on longer.”