Apple today is releasing a new version of its App Store Review Guidelines, its lengthy document that dictates the rules that apps must abide by in order to be published to its App Store. Among the more notable changes rolling out today are several sections that will see Apple taking a harder stance on App Store fraud, scams and developer misconduct, including a new process that aims to empower other developers to hold bad actors accountable.
One of the key updates on this front involves a change to Apple’s Developer Code of Conduct (Sections 5.6 and 5.6.1-5.6.4 of the Review Guidelines).
This section has been significantly expanded to include guidance stating that repeated manipulative or misleading behavior or other fraudulent conduct will lead to the developer’s removal from the Apple Developer Program. This is something Apple has done for repeated violations, it claims, but wanted to now ensure it was clearly spelled out in the guidelines.
In an entirely new third paragraph in this section, Apple says that if a developer engages in activities or actions that are not in accordance with the developer code of conduct, they will have their Apple Developer account terminated.
It also details what, specifically, must be done to restore the account, which includes providing Apple with a written statement detailing the improvements they’ve made, which will have to be approved by Apple. If Apple is able to confirm the changes have been made, it may then restore the developer’s account.
Apple explained in a press briefing that this change was meant to prevent a sort of catch and release scenario where a developer gets caught by Apple, but then later reverts their changes to continue their bad behavior.
As part of this update, Apple added a new section about developer identity (5.6.2). This is meant to ensure the contact information for developers provided to Apple and customers is accurate and functional, and that the developer isn’t impersonating other, legitimate developers on the App Store. This was a particular issue in a high-profile incident of App Store fraud which involved a crypto wallet app that scammed a user out of his life’s savings (~$600,000) in Bitcoin. The scam victim had been deceived because the app was using the same name and icon as a different company that made a hardware crypto device, and because the scam app was rated five stars. (Illegitimately, that is.)
Related to this, Apple clarified the language around App Store discovery fraud (5.6.3) to more specifically call out any type of manipulations of App Store charts, search, reviews and referrals. The former would mean to crack down on the clearly booming industry of fake App Store ratings and reviews, which can send a scam app higher in charts and search.
Meanwhile, the referral crackdown would address consumers being shown incorrect pricing outside the App Store in an effort to boost installs.
Another section (5.6.4) addresses issues that come up after an app is published, including negative customer reports and concerns and excessive refund rates, for example. If Apple notices this behavior, it will investigate the app for violations, it says.
Of course, the question here is: Will Apple actually notice the potential scammers? In recent months, a growing number of developers believe Apple is allowing far too many scammers to fall through the cracks of App Review.
One particular thorn in Apple’s side has been Fleksy keyboard app founder Kosta Eleftheriou, who is not only suing Apple for the revenue he’s personally lost to scammers, but also formed a sort of one-man bunco squad to expose some of the more egregious scams to date. This has included the above-mentioned crypto scam; a kids game that actually contained a hidden online casino; and a VPN app scamming users out of $5 million per year, among many others.
The rampant fraud taking place on the App Store was also brought up during Apple’s antitrust hearing, when Georgia’s Senator Jon Ossoff asked Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer why Apple was not able to locate scams, given they’re “trivially easy” to identify.
Apple downplayed the concerns then, and continues to do so through press releases like this one, which noted how the App Store stopped over $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2020.
But a new update to these guidelines seems to be an admission that Apple may need a little help on this front. It says developers can now directly report possible violations they find in other developers’ apps. Through a new form that standardizes this sort of complaint, developers can point to guideline violations and any other trust and safety issues they discover. Often, developers notice the scammers whose apps are impacting their own business and revenue, so they’ll likely turn to this form now as a first step in getting the scammer dealt with.
Another change will allow developers to appeal a rejection if they think there was unfair treatment of any kind, including political bias. Previously, Apple had allowed developers to appeal App Store decisions and suggest changes to guidelines.
Apple told us it has 500 app reviewers covering 81 languages who see new scenarios daily that have to be accounted for in updated guidelines and policies. Apple says it takes what it learns from these individual issues it encounters to invest in its systems, algorithms and training so it can prevent similar issues in the future. The company believes the new Code of Conduct rules, in particular, will give it the tools needed to better crack down on App Store fraud.
The rules about scams are only a handful of the many changes rolling out with today’s updated App Store Review Guidelines.
There are a few others, however, also worth highlighting:
- Apple clarified rules around “hookup” apps to ensure developers understand porn and prostitution are not allowed on the App Store — often an issue with the fly-by-night hookup apps, which bait and switch users.
- Creator content apps are instructed that they must follow rules for user-generated content, when applicable, meaning they must have content blocking, reporting and robust moderation.
- Apple added the ability for licensed pharmacies and licensed cannabis dispensaries to facilitate purchasing, provided they’re legal and geogated.
- Apps that report criminal activity require the developers to work with local law enforcement. (Citizen is a recent example of an app gone awry when users hunted down the wrong person. That level of carelessness may be coming to an end now.)
- Bait-and-switch marketing and ads about app pricing isn’t allowed.
- Cellular carrier apps can now include other kinds of subscription apps besides music and video services.
- Apple clarifies that developers can communicate on email with anyone, but says they can’t target customers acquired through the App Store with messages about how to make purchases outside of the App Store.
- Apple has enough drinking game apps. Stop sending them in.
- Apps that offer account creation also have to offer account deletion.
- Other clarity was added around in-app purchases for gift cards, app metadata, bug fix submissions and more. But these were not major changes.
Motorway’s auction platform for second-hand cars raises $67.7M Series B led by Index Ventures
Motorway, is a UK startup that allows professional car dealers to bid in an auction for privately-owned cars for sale. The startup has had rapid success by removing a lot of friction in the process. It’s now raised £48m / $67.7m in a Series B round led by Index Ventures, along with new investors BMW i Ventures and Unbound. Existing investors Latitude and Marchmont Ventures also participated. The funding will be used to extend its platform and grow the current 160-strong team.
The startup allows consumers to sell their car for up to £1,000, by uploading its details via a smartphone. Over 3,000 professional car dealers then bid for the vehicle in a daily online auction. The highest offer wins the car, which is then collected for free by the winning dealer inside 24 hours.
Motorway says it has sold 65,000 cars since its launch in 2017 and seen sales hit £50m in May 2021 alone, £2.5m of transactions a day, and more than 4,000 completed car sales a month. With only 5% of all vehicles in the UK sold online right now, there is plenty of headroom for this market to grow.
Tom Leathes, CEO of Motorway, said: “For half a century, inefficient offline processes have led to bad deals and a bad experience for both car sellers and car dealers. Motorway has fundamentally changed a broken experience where everyone ends up dissatisfied – and we’ve transformed it with a superior online experience where everybody wins. Cutting out the middlemen leaves both the consumer and car dealer with a better deal, all from home and without the stress. Our incredible growth so far is testament to our focus on delivering more value through technology – and this investment will provide us with the fuel to take Motorway to the next level.”
Danny Rimer, Partner at Index Ventures, said: “We’re always looking to invest in companies that are truly disrupting an industry and meeting a real customer need. We have found that in Motorway. The team has built an incredibly powerful platform, underpinned by great technology and a deep understanding of the challenges both consumers and car dealers face. Motorway has quickly become the first port of call for tens of thousands of people selling their car.”
Motorway previously raised £14m in venture funding since it was founded by Tom Leathes, Harry Jones and Alex Buttle in 2017.
Speaking to me over interview Leathes added: “COVID has been a real accelerator of something that was already happening. The car industry is moving online and that’s partly about people buying their next car online, but it’s also about dealers changing their behavior, how they do business, where they buy their cars. It forced that change which they resisted for a long time, and now they’re embracing it, so it’s a fundamental shift in the industry. And this is why we see such a massive opportunity to provide the rails to help both sides of the marketplace to move online.”
Rimer added: “It’s rare that you have founders who have worked together across multiple successful and less successful startups who have that scar tissue and success, and are now going for a much bigger opportunity. The business model is really an important one for us because instead of owning inventory and then having to get rid of your inventory, sort of like the difference between Nat-a-Porter and Farfetch. Motorway’s marketplace is just like Farfetch – they don’t have any inventory, which means that just by merely making that platform happen for buyers and sellers, they win. So there’s a lot less risk associated with what the money is going to be used for when building the business.”
Cyber security training platform Immersive Labs closes $75M Series C led by Insight Partners
Immersive Labs, a platform which teaches cyber security skills corporate employees by using real, up-to-date threat intelligence in a “gamified” way, has closed a $75 million Series C funding round led by new investors Insight Partners alongside Menlo Ventures, Citi Ventures and existing investor Goldman Sachs Asset Management.
The investment will be used to scale Immersive’s offering in the US and take advantage of the new wave of interest in cyber threats caused by so many people working remotely, post-pandemic. Founded in 2017, Immersive Labs now has 200 people, with joint operations HQs in Bristol, UK, and Boston, US. It plans to raise headcount to over 600 in the next two years and establish operations in new regions throughout APAC and Europe. Immersive’s ‘Cyber Workforce Optimization’ platform claims to offer board-level metrics and benchmarking to gauge how the skills inside organizations are coping.
Immersive has now raised a total of $123m in venture funding and counts HSBC, Vodafone, and the NHS as customers. The company says it is growing at “over 100% year-on-year”.
James Hadley, CEO and founder of Immersive Labs, said: “With cyber risk becoming a problem for a growing number of business functions, cybersecurity knowledge and skills should no longer be the preserve of a few technical people hidden away in a back office. Everyone from the teams who build software, to the CEO, now need to play their part in addressing a pervasive company issue. This requires unlocking and evidencing skills in a much broader group of people.”
Ryan Hinkle, managing director at Insight Partners, said: “With significant global customer and revenue growth over the last few years, Immersive Labs has established a strong position in the fast-developing cyber skills space. With influential leadership, an innovative product in a growing market, and strong user engagement, the company is in a position to continue to lead the cyber readiness market.”
Speaking to me over an interview, Hadley added: “We chose Insight Partners because they’ve got a real strength in enterprise B2B which is where we sell to CIOs and CEOs… We want to be the next Darktrace in terms of a successful UK cybersecurity company.”
The comparison might not be that fanciful. Immersive Labs came out of the CYLON cyber accelerator, similar to Darktrace, has the same investors as Darktrace, but has in fact attracted $75m for its Series C, whereas Darktrace didn’t manage that level until Series D. Darktrace has now IPO’d in the London for £1.7bn.
Hadley, a former GCHQ security researcher and trainer, came up with the idea for the cyber skills platform while leading cyber training himself. I asked him why he thinks Immersive has managed to come up with a ‘flywheel effect’ with its platform.
“People always talk about all the cyber threats getting worse, but it really is now and it’s in the public domain. We’ve got a strong belief that cybersecurity is no longer the responsibility of the geeks in the basement. Actually, it’s business-wide. And now the tidal wave is coming. Cybercrime is going to go off the scale this year and next because companies are paying the ransoms. And as a result of that, we’re putting in analytics to measure decision-making in a crisis. It’s just resonating really well with every company regardless of CIO or vertical,” he told me.
Gillmor Gang: Déjà Vu
The Gang or a subset did a Clubhouse, longer than a regular show by a good third. The audio only structure lacked the visual cues that distinguish between irony and bad manners, but otherwise it felt familiar if not comfortable. I can’t remember what we talked about, only that I seemed a little more emphatic about my opinions than usual. We recorded the meeting, which is close to what it was. Not really a show, more a rally of a political platform with no policies. A few friends joined in, several listeners drifted in and out. All in all, about what I expected.
The following day, I called around to get others’ reactions. Also about what I expected. That evening, someone hosted a Twitter Spaces event that apparently peaked at 22,000 listeners. The subject matter was crypto. I remember walking around below the stage at Woodstock early on the first afternoon of the festival. The fences were down; the concert was declared free, and the crowds began to build. The sense of something big filled the air, but I was more concerned with the foreboding storm clouds gathering at the top of the hill. At some point as the thunder began to roll in, I left and headed back to the safety of the town of Woodstock 40 miles away.
I grew up part time in Woodstock, the other part in the city at my father’s apartment in Greenwich Village. From as early as I remember, the conversation around the coffee table in the kitchen was all about the issues of the day, the music and media of the time, the patterns of a family marked by divorce, liberalism, and the key notion that age had little to do with one’s standing around the table. It always felt profound to me that I could be heard and listen to any subject or feeling, across the multigenerational patchwork of step and half siblings, and in both the Village and Woodstock, a steady stream of artists, musicians, and filmmakers engaged intimately in the moment of the 60’s and on and on to this day. My point is that Clubhouse and Twitter and a flattened hierarchy of intention and opinion is a constant in my life, not a new freedom or problem to be overcome. It’s the old normal, for me.
On this edition of the Gang, the subject of Amazon’s Sidewalk mesh network arises. Suffice it to say, there are security implications. What happens when a company whose scale has captured a significant percentage of the world economy in the pandemic offers an opt out service sharing its customers’ broadband internet access with other Amazon customers? The potential arrogance of providing an opt out date after which you have agreed to this plan by not saying no is, well, breathtaking. Forget that the algorithm uses a very small part of your bandwidth cap and would be unlikely to affect your access to or price of the subscription to the network. In some way, that makes the grab seem even more Machiavellian than it really is. But even more egregious is the suggestion that such a mesh network gives potential access not only to the bandwidth but what you and everybody else in the neighborhood does with it. Wherever you go, there you are indeed. Or, there goes the neighborhood.
For now, the fences are down in the new Woodstock. Washington is coming for its cut of the pie, and the new rules of post-cookie and privacy v. economy are being debated. Apple is challenging the newsletter and its rationale creator economy by breaking access to the open and click rates that drive analytics. Tracking pixels will now open en masse before the beginning of the viewing process rather than firing off as clicks are generated. Substack and Revue tools to track these indications of user preference will have to be replaced by direct appeals for information about preferences, which to me suggests a kind of horse trade in terms of subscriber cost versus user-provided data. By the way, I very much appreciate new subscribers to the Gang newsletter feed, even though we’ve moved off Substack to Revue and don’t know why people are subscribing to an empty stream. Come to think of it, the sound of silence may be worth it.
As Professor Corey used to say, “No, no, I really mean that.” What is said may not be the most important part of the transaction. Instead, how trust is established and maintained is a core value. The newsletter proposition is to cut to the chase, whether by overt messages or the avoidance of wasted time spent on concerns or attitudes that have already been understood by the nature of the subscribed relationship. As the cost of creator production approaches zero, tools are needed to evaluate the credibility and utility of all these new voices. Where magazines and publishers used to provide a screening process, now the methodology for measuring trust becomes business critical. How many are watching or reading what is still important, but who those people are and how they relate to each other in a retweet/like social culture is more so.
Something akin to this is going on with live audio, where the conversation is a representative democratic process where listeners can evaluate not just what is said but how it is absorbed by the others “on stage.” These little signals of discovery between speakers are amplified by the audience reaction and, painfully, their withdrawal from the room via Leave Quietly. You can hear the moderator(s) quickly responding to such attrition with pivots to more viable subject matter or new speakers, but in aggregate these adjustments form a roadmap for future participation by “subscribers.” In this structure, the subscription is less about the price and more about the trust the group ascribes to the producers and speakers.
At Woodstock, the downed fences, traffic jams, and general chaos of creating a half-a-million population city in a heartbeat produced a difficult management situation where the very acts promoted by the organizers were unable to reach the stage. Instead, artists like John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful (attending but not performing) were thrust into the spotlight for iconic performances that changed not only their careers but the rhythm and drama of the film that resulted. Joni Mitchell was convinced by her manager to skip the event in favor of an appearance on the Dick Cavett show, but her boyfriend of the time, Graham Nash, was there as part of CSN&Y and relayed his impressions of the event as Mitchell sat in her hotel room. The result was the song she wrote, as recorded by CSNY, became the lead single from the band’s next record Déjà Vu, and played over the end credits of the film.
“We are stardust… golden… got to get back to the garden.” Joni Mitchell’s invisible pixels sprinkled over the massive economic disaster known as the Woodstock festival captured the top of the hit parade, and with it the moment we remember in history. Altamont, assassinations, pandemics, Nixon bombing in Ohio were soon to replace the aura of the hippie trek, but we still celebrate the idea of what we call Woodstock. The cryptos may be right, and translucent pixels may be suppressed, but I’ll still take CSNY’s glowing harmonies any day on my morning Wheaties. I’ll take shows about nothing for 40, Bob.
from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter
The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 4, 2021.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang
Nuclear waste recycling is a critical avenue of energy innovation
No single question bedevils American energy and environmental policy more than nuclear waste. No, not even a changing climate, which may be a wicked problem but nonetheless receives a great deal of counter-bedeviling attention.
It’s difficult to paint the picture with a straight face. Let’s start with three main elements of the story.
First, nuclear power plants in the United States generate about 2,000 metric tons of nuclear waste (or “spent fuel”) per year. Due to its inherent radioactivity, it is carefully stored at various sites around the country.
Second, the federal government is in charge of figuring out what to do with it. In fact, power plant operators have paid over $40 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund so that the government can handle it. The idea was to bury it in the “deep geological repository” embodied by Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but this has proved politically impossible. Nevertheless, $15 billion was spent on the scoping.
Third, due to the Energy Department’s inability to manage this waste, it simply accumulates. According to that agency’s most recent data release, some 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel—hundreds of thousands of fuel assemblies containing millions of fuel rods—is waiting for a final destination.
And here’s the twist ending: those nuclear plant operators sued the government for breach of contract and, in 2013, they won. Several hundred million dollars is now paid out to them each year by the U.S. Treasury, as part of a series of settlements and judgments. The running total is over $8 billion.
I realize this story sounds a little crazy. Am I really saying that the U.S. government collected billions of dollars to manage nuclear waste, then spent billions of dollars on a feasibility study only to stick it on the shelf, and now is paying even more billions of dollars for this failure? Yes, I am.
Fortunately, all of the aggregated waste occupies a relatively small area and temporary storage exists. Without an urgent reason to act, policymakers generally will not.
While attempts to find long-term storage will continue, policymakers should look towards recycling some of this “waste” into usable fuel. This is actually an old idea. Only a small fraction of nuclear fuel is consumed to generate electricity.
Proponents of recycling envision reactors that use “reprocessed” spent fuel, extracting energy from the 90% of it leftover after burn-up. Even its critics admit that the underlying chemistry, physics, and engineering of recycling are technically feasible, and instead assail the disputable economics and perceived security risks.
So-called Generation IV reactors come in all shapes and sizes. The designs have been around for years—in some respects, all the way back to the dawn of nuclear energy—but light-water reactors have dominated the field for a variety of political, economic, and strategic reasons. For example, Southern Company’s twin conventional pressurized water reactors under construction in Georgia each boast a capacity of just over 1,000-megawatt (or 1 gigawatt), standard for Westinghouse’s AP 1000 design.
In contrast, next-generation plant designs are a fraction of the size and capacity, and also may use different cooling systems: Oregon-based NuScale Power’s 77-megawatt small modular reactor, San Diego-based General Atomics’ 50-megawatt helium-cooled fast modular reactor, Alameda-based Kairos Power’s 140-megawatt molten fluoride salt reactor, and so on all have different configurations that can fit different business and policy objectives.
Many Gen-IV designs can either explicitly recycle used fuel or be configured to do so. On June 3, TerraPower (backed by Bill Gates), GE Hitachi, and the State of Wyoming announced an agreement to build a demonstration of the 345-megawatt Natrium design, a sodium-cooled fast reactor.
Natrium is technically capable of recycling fuel for generation. California-based Oklo has already reached an agreement with Idaho National Laboratory to operate its 1.5-megawatt “microreactor” off of used-fuel supplies. In fact, the self-professed “preferred fuel” for New York-based Elysium Industries’ molten salt reactor design is spent nuclear fuel and Alabama-based Flibe Energy advertises the waste-burning capability of its thorium reactor design.
Whether advanced reactors rise or fall does not depend on resolving the nuclear waste deadlock. Though such reactors may be able to consume spent fuel, they don’t necessarily have to. Nonetheless, incentivizing waste recycling would improve their economics.
“Incentivize” here is code for “pay.” Policymakers should consider ways that Washington can make it more profitable for a power plant to recycle fuel than to import it—from Canada, Kazakhstan, Australia, Russia, and other countries.
Political support for advanced nuclear technology, including recycling, is deeper than might be expected. In 2019, the Senate confirmed Dr. Rita Baranwal as the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE). A materials scientist by training, she emerged as a champion of recycling.
The new Biden administration has continued broadly bipartisan support for advanced nuclear reactors in proposing in its Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request to increase funding for the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy by nearly $350 million. The proposal includes specific funding increases for researching and developing reactor concepts (plus $32 million), fuel cycle R&D (plus $59 million), and advanced reactor demonstration (plus $120 million), and tripling funding for the Versatile Test Reactor (from $45 million to $145 million, year over year).
In May, the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced a new $40 million program to support research in “optimizing” waste and disposal from advanced reactors, including through waste recycling. Importantly, the announcement explicitly states that the lack of a solution to nuclear waste today “poses a challenge” to the future of Gen-IV reactors.
The debate is a reminder that recycling in general is a very messy process. It is chemical-, machine-, and energy-intensive. Recycling of all kinds, from critical minerals to plastic bottles, produces new waste, too. Today, federal and state governments are quite active in recycling these other waste streams, and they should be equally involved in nuclear waste.
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