Apple to approve Bitcoin apps? Not quite

A new clause in Apple's App Store guidelines has addressed virtual currencies for the first time, but it's a far cry from embracing apps that it has cleaned out of the store over the past year.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

After elimating Bitcoin apps from the App Store last year, Apple has clarified its stance on virtual currencies, but whether the new rule opens or shuts the door on those apps is unclear.

Along with yesterday's host of software announcements at WWDC, Apple updated 'purchasing and currencies' rules in its App Store Review Guidelines, for the first time addressing the question of virtual currencies.

"Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions," it now states.

While the new clause was interpreted to mean Apple had given the tick to Bitcoin apps, what it means for Bitcoin apps remains unclear. Does Apple have a list of "approved virtual currencies"? Would its own patented Bitcoin-killer in the works pass? And what exactly does compliance with local laws mean?

No country has outlawed the use of Bitcoin for transactions, yet none have recognised it as a legitimate currency. Norway views it as an asset, the US has special rules for money transmitters while others such as Australia and Brazil plan to subject Bitcoin holdings to capital gains taxes.

Apple hasn't previously had an explicit policy on Bitcoin apps, however it has over the past year removed several of them that offered Bitcoin transmission, such as BitPak and Coinbase.

The latest eviction came this February when it showed the Blockchain Wallet the door "due to an unresolved issue". While its rejection sparked claims from Blockchain's developers that Apple was protecting its own payment system revenues, Apple had previously rejected Blockchain's app in 2012, for the reason that it facilitated the trading of virtual currency in some jurisdictions where it wasn't legal.

Others with currency transmitting features have suffered the same fate. The makers of Gliph, a messaging app that has a Bitcoin wallet viewing function, were forced to remove a Bitcoin transfer feature in order to remain in the App Store.

The immediate future of Bitcoin apps that have transmission capabilities on the App Store remain unclear, however Apple's clarification will see developers, such as Gliph, testing out the boundaries.

"Our company maintains that it is acting within existing state and federal regulations around the transmission of Bitcoin currency. As a result, we will continue to look to Apple for allowing the ability for our users to transmit Bitcoin between each other in our iOS application," Gliph said in a blogpost on the subject.

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