Back in 2019, investigations by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times revealed Apple’s App Store clearly and consistently ranked its own apps ahead of competitors. At that time, Apple claimed it had done nothing wrong. Top executives told the Times, that a secret algorithm containing 42 different variables was working as intended so that Apple doesn’t alter search results manually.
An intriguing email chain that surfaced during the Epic vs. Apple trial hints Apple did the exact opposite. It admitted that Apple manually boosted the ranking of its own Files app ahead of the competition for 11 entire months.
When Apple was confronted by Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney over Apple’s Files app showing up first when searching for Dropbox, Apple app search lead Debankur Naskar wrote “We are removing the manual boost and the search results should be more relevant now.” Sweeney wrote back, “Dropbox wasn’t even visible on the first page.”
Apple told The Verge that the email chain has been misinterpreted. Apple didn’t challenge that Files was unfairly ranked over Dropbox but considered it a mistake. The company said, since the Files app had a Dropbox integration, Apple put “Dropbox” into the app’s metadata, and it was automatically ranked higher than “Dropbox”.
It does not really matter whether Apple manually boosted its own apps or not. What matters here is for 11 months Dropbox has been ignored. In reality, the algorithm with 42 variables has been developed by man, not machine so there is a manually tweak to the story. Two years back, Apple had to just tweak its algorithm to resolve the WSJ and NYT’s scrutiny.
Now, Apple provided the following statement: “We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. App Store Search has only one goal — to get customers what they are looking for. We do that in a way that is fair to all developers and we do not advantage our apps over those of any developer or competitor.”
“Today, developers have many options for distributing their apps and that’s why we work hard to make it easy, fair and a great opportunity for them to develop apps for our customers around the world.”