After Apple's App Store rejection, French minister wades into debate over apps and net neutrality

After Apple expelled French app AppGratis from its store, French minister Fleur Pellerin has expressed concern about the move - and its implications for net neutrality.

Apple's decision to pull an app by a French developer from its iOS app store has got France's digital economy minister fired up.

The app in question, AppGratis, promotes other apps by offering temporary discounts or free trials. AppGratis is no newcomer to the market: it has existed as an online service since 2008 – initially as a newsletter - and as an app since 2010.

However, it removed from the App Store earlier this month, after falling foul of Apple's terms and conditions.

Simon Dawlat, CEO at AppGratis, said on his blog that Apple had told him AppGratis had contravened its guideline 2.25 which states that "apps that display other than your own for purchase or promotion in manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected", but also for guideline 5.6 according to which "apps cannot use push notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind." Apple confirmed it had removed the app for violating the two guidelines, but didn't comment further.

It's not the first time AppGratis has had to deal with Apple’s validation team. Last October, it rejected an update to the app, although it approved the v3 version of the iPhone app weeks later after adjustments were made to keep it on the right side of Apple's rules.

More recently, AppGratis found itself on the receiving end of another App Store u-turn: Apple validated the iPad version of the application just a week before pulling it from its app store.

Dawlat said he's "stunned that Apple took the decision to destroy so much value within their own ecosystem" and added the story is "far from finished" for the company that recently raised $13.5m in funding, and which has 12 million users on the disappeared app.

So far, he appears to be right: Fleur Pellerin, French minister for the digital economy, took to Twitter to voice her objection to the move, questioning why that "in the App Store's listings, plenty of apps similar to AppGratis remain", suggesting that some apps may not be receiving equal treatment at Apple's hands. (ZDNet has contacted Apple for comment, but has not received any.)

Last week, Pellerin visited AppGratis' offices in Paris, where she criticised the "brutality" of Apple's decision. she said during the visit, Pellerin highlighted the need to "measure the full extent of how these large platforms can unilaterally decide market conditions and how businesses work, in a way that is not compatible with the ethics we expect from those large companies".

Pellerin also highlighted the link between Apple's decision and the wider debate around net neutrality - a point echoed by Benoît Thieulin, president of the recently appointed National Digital Council, questioning the neutrality of de facto app distribution platforms like Apple's App Store. 

It's an issue that has so far gone largely undebated: should there be a universal right of access to Apple's app store? And given iOS developers have to abide by the rules that Apple sets in order to distribute their apps, with such a monopoly, should Apple be allowed to set all the rules alone?