Apple's Tumultuous Relationship With Bitcoin Apps

Over the past several years, Apple has removed, denied, or otherwise prevented a number of Bitcoin-related apps from being available to users on the App Store. Most recently, the company required the developers behind Gliph -- a secure messaging app that also allowed users to transfer bitcoin from one Gliph user to another -- to remove the bitcoin sending feature from its app.

The company has told a number of developers behind Bitcoin-related apps that their apps contain content -- or facilitate, enable, or encourage an activity -- "that is not legal in all the locations in which the app is available, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines."

Bitcoin is a virtual currency, not issued by any government, that can be transferred electronically from one wallet -- basically a special computer file -- to another. The value of the currency is incredibly volatile, with its USD exchange rate going from under $400 to more than $1200 in the past month. At one point, the price of a single bitcoin moved from $1155 to $576 in a few hours. Bitcoins are currently available for around $900 on the Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange.

Bitcoin Chart
The concept of a private, virtual currency is a foreign one for governments that can have difficulty staying in the same decade as quickly emerging technologies. Both domestic and international governments are struggling with the currency and how to regulate it. China has banned financial institutions from handling bitcoin transactions, though person-to-person transactions are still allowed.

The U.S. Government has taken a slightly more positive view of bitcoin, however. The U.S. Department of Justice said in a Senate hearing that bitcoins can be "legal means of exchange" and that bitcoin is not "in and of [itself], illegal".

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said in a research report that bitcoin could eventually become a "major means of payment for commerce" and a "serious competitor to traditional money transfer providers". However, federal anti-money laundering and terrorism financing statutes would appear to conflict with the fast-paced development that has pushed bitcoin growth thus far.

While bitcoin use and ownership is not de jure illegal, it nonetheless exists in a legal gray area that could potentially affect users at some point. Gliph, the app mentioned earlier, did not even transfer bitcoin directly. Instead, it used API calls to attach a bitcoin wallet from a third-party company to the app. This allowed Gliph users to transfer bitcoin to one another, similar to how an app developer might use PayPal's API to facilitate checkout and credit card payments in their apps. However, this is the functionality that Apple had the developers remove before it would allow Gliph back on the App Store.

For the most part, Apple has declined to explain how a bitcoin-transferring or -trading app could be approved, nor in what countries the bitcoin functionality might not be allowed. It merely refers to section 22.1 of the App Store review guidelines which states that it is the "developer's obligation to understand and conform to all local laws". The company appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach, both protecting itself and -- perhaps more importantly to the company -- protecting its users. An Apple spokesperson did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The Gliph blog has one possible theory for Apple's apparent disinclination towards Bitcoin apps:

Among other possible reasons, we wonder if Apple simply doesn’t want to police useful Bitcoin apps in the App Store because they perceive the legal ambiguity of the currency as more trouble than it is worth. Bitcoin is still in an early-adopter phase and probably the majority of Apple’s customers are unaware the currency exists and not looking for these types of apps anyway. Better to avoid this type of software for now, and take the option to change their mind in the future.

Earlier this year, Apple removed the app for the bitcoin buying and trading platform Coinbase from its store. The story is similar for Blockchain.info, Bitpak, and Bitcoin Express -- all Bitcoin-related apps that were either removed or rejected from the App Store. The Gliph blog has more details on the various apps. Most of them received rejection language similar to section 22.1.

There are still Bitcoin-related apps on the App Store, however most do not provide the ability to purchase, sell or transfer bitcoins. As a result, some exchanges -- including Mt. Gox, one of the largest -- have instead chosen to develop mobile websites for wallet-holders rather than dedicated apps. Google has taken a more hands-off approach, largely allowing Bitcoin apps to remain on its Google Play store.

As bitcoin becomes more widely accepted -- and regulated -- by Governments and large financial institutions alike Apple may become more accepting, but in the meantime, the company seems to have made its position clear.

Gliph is a free download on the App Store, however its bitcoin functionality is limited to viewing bitcoin wallets, with no transfer capabilities. Its secure messaging and cloaked email capabilities remain intact. [Direct Link]

Top Rated Comments

osx11 Avatar
115 months ago
Am I the only one who still doesn't totally understand this bitcoin thing?
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
LucasLand Avatar
115 months ago
american dollars are also used to buy guns, drugs, porn, hookers, best healthcare for politicians, A-Rod's 300 million contract.

people have their cash stolen too, by con artists, street thugs, churches, IRS, charities and by deadbeat relatives

if someone placed malware on your mac and it stole your coins, then the problem is with that thief and malware.


Lets get rid of the Dollar too
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kds1 Avatar
115 months ago
You've got it completely backwards. It's the U.S. government that relies on people to do business with it, not the other way around. No need to pay taxes when the government can't enforce them due to having no access to your bitcoin accounts. Once the government loses the ability to steal money from people via taxation and printing more fiat currency (thus devaluing all existing currency), it loses all political power and people's natural rights will be restored from the grip of violent government aggression.

You're a real nutter, aren't you?
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Pyrrhic Victory Avatar
115 months ago
I can't wait until bitcoin becomes a mainstream currency and destroys the rigged fiat currency that the Fed prints, steals, taxes, wastes, gives to the megarich and the prideless beggars and siphons off from everyone else. The influence of political machines on Americans' lives depends on monopolizing their currency and once bitcoin and other competing digital currencies make the dollar irrelevant it will bring this corrupt crony capitalist colossus to its knees. I'm not going to name drop because it realy doesn't matter between Democrats and Republicans, they pretend to be sworn enemies but in reality they're just colluding with each other to hoard as much political power and influence as they can between them. The proof is that they do everything possible to shut out every other candidate from the debates and even the ballot so they can protect and manipulate their political cartel in perpetuity.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jtara Avatar
115 months ago
We've yet to be impacted by the major negative aspect of Bitcoin. Unnecessary and increasing use of electrical power.

By design, creation of new Bitcoin is limited by the cost of electricity. ("mining cost"). It is just a move back to the "gold standard", except now the gold is electrical power.

It takes an ever-increasing amount of computing power to mine bitcoin. This is by design. It is no longer practical to mine bitcoin using desktop computers in most localities (at least not if you are paying for the electricity), because the electricity will cost more than the value of the bitcoin mined. And, so, miners have had special ASIC circuits created that can mine more efficiently.

Ultimately, though, they will bump-up against the cost of electricity again, and then need some more boost to efficiency. Maybe we can generate electricity more efficiently. Might be good for society, as it might drive-down the cost of electrical production, and drive up the efficiency of computation.

But it does ultimately mean that we will use more and more electricity to produce - what? To produce tokens of value. But, to me, that electricity is completely wasted. We would be using the electricity to produce tokens of value - not value itself.

BTW, this is not lost on the dark side of the Internet. People are stealing your electricity right now. There's plenty of malware that uses your computer to mine bitcoin. One of the latest trends is Javascript mining. It's very inefficient, but (to the miner) the electricity is free.

Gold, at least, has other useful purposes it can be used for. If you no longer need a gold coin as a store of value, you can turn it into a piece of jewelry, some electrical contact plating, or a tooth filling. Electrical power, once consumed to mine bitcoin, is exhausted and cannot be "reused".

I suppose the solution to the madness would be eventually the government orders mining operations to be halted and sends in troops to shut-down the miners, thus making electrical production available for useful purposes.

Wow, what a great Science Fiction scenario...


Energy Consumption
Energy consumption for mining has a high correlation with bitcoin value (exchange rate). Because variable costs of mining are dominated by electricity price, the economic equilibrium for the mining rate is reached when global electricity costs for mining approximate the value of mining reward plus transaction fees.
So the higher the value of one bitcoin, the higher the value of mining rewards and transaction fees, the higher the energy consumption of the bitcoin network in the long run.
more efficient mining gear does not reduce energy use of the bitcoin network. It will only raise the network difficulty
cheaper energy linearly increases mining energy use of the bitcoin network
the same conclusions apply to all proof of work based currencies (i.e. Litecoin).
https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Weaknesses
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
bbfc Avatar
115 months ago
Am I the only one who still doesn't totally understand this bitcoin thing?

I haven't a clue what it is.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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