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Apple pauses App Store gambling ads after developer outcry

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Illustration of the App Store logo on a dark black and blue background. Other unspecified categories of apps have also been paused. | Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple has “paused ads related to gambling and a few other categories on App Store product pages” after developers and commentators criticized the types of advertisements showing up in the iPhone’s App Store, according to a statement from spokesperson Trevor Kincaid.

On Tuesday, Apple announced that companies could advertise their apps on the store pages for other apps, putting their icon in the “you might also like” section. Almost immediately, developers started showing examples of ads for gambling apps being recommended under their apps.

Twitter is also full of screenshots of very inappropriate ad placements: one Twitter user shows a slot machine app being advertised alongside gambling addiction recovery apps, and there are examples of other betting apps being advertised on pages for apps aimed towards children, adult video chat apps showing up on the Apple Books page, and dating apps being placed under apps designed to improve existing relationships.

Apple has no additional information to share at this time, so it's unclear how long the pause will last/what changes might be made/etc.

— Joe Rossignol (@rsgnl) October 26, 2022

As MacRumors reporter Joe Rossignol points out, Apple hasn’t clarified how long the pause would last, or if it’ll be making any policy changes based on how the initial rollout has gone down. It’s also unclear which other ad categories have been paused.

Apple’s rules for advertising on the App Store do list apps related to gambling, alcohol, dating, and the pharmaceutical and medical industry as “restricted,” meaning that there are special rules about where they can be shown. The limitations are mainly about laws instead of what’s tasteful or potentially harmful though; the site says gambling apps are “prohibited or limited in some countries and regions,” but doesn’t say anything about the audience they can be served to.

How Apple proceeds could be very important for the future of the iPhone. Reports have indicated that it’s planning on expanding ads outside the App Store, to apps like Maps, Podcasts, and Books. Imagine seeing a casino pop up when you search for addiction recovery centers, or erotic novels when you’re looking for books on dealing with a porn addiction.

The good news for Apple is that there are other companies that have been working on this problem that it can borrow ideas from, if it’s not too proud to do so. Google, for example, lets you limit the number of ads you see about potentially sensitive topics like alcohol, gambling, dating, pregnancy, and weight loss. Apple talks a big game about how the App Store is a safe place to get software for your phone, and (despite the many ways it’s historically failed to prove that) it needs to maintain that appearance. But can it do that while also trying to show us ads whenever we open its apps?

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