iOS App Store rule change could be targeting pay-per-install apps

Apple(s AAPL) has updated its App Store rules to include language that seems to imply that apps that promote or sell other apps will be disqualified from being on the App Store. That brings to mind apps that recommend other apps: Apps like Chomp, which Apple purchased in February. But the change is not likely to affect apps that have a unique take on app recommendation.

The new language in the App Store rules states: “Apps that display apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.” Techcrunch noted the concerns of developers on Monday.

Because the App Store has for so long promoted the most popular apps rather than the best apps, a cottage industry has emerged that attempts to solve this problem (subscription required). On its face, “apps that display apps other than your own for purchase or promotion” would disqualify popular iOS recommendation apps like Appoday, Appsfire and others that recommend quality apps to iOS users through editorial or social criteria. It’s just another way to get promoted or find an audience on the App Store, which is now 700,000 apps strong.

I talked to Appsfire’s co-founder, Ouriel Ohayon, who says that his app, which offers social recommendations for iOS apps, has not been affected by the rule changes. That’s because his app has seen two different updates submitted and approved by Apple since the changes were implemented. That’s a good indication he’s in the clear — at least for now.

If the rules were intended to include Appsfire and its ilk, what would that mean for Facebook(s FB)? Apple and Facebook only recently have gotten back on good terms after their falling out in the run-up to the launch of Apple’s Ping social music network (that has since been shut down). Is Apple about to excise one of the most popular apps of all time from the App Store because of Facebook’s new app promotion service? “I have a hard time thinking Apple would reject Facebook now that they sport the App Center,” Ohayon told me.

I do too.

He thinks what’s more likely is that Apple is trying to weed out app recommendation “clones” that look too much like the App Store. That’s the “promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store” part of the new rule’s language. AppGratis’ CEO Simon Dawlat told essentially the same thing.

Cloned apps that are ripoffs of other successful apps or apps that exist simply to promote others are not a new problem on the App Store. Apple has taken steps in the past to root these out, sometimes removing apps at another developer’s request. A month ago, Apple went even further and introduced a tool that allowed any developer to easily report cloned or copyright-infringing apps.

Apple began cracking down a year ago on apps participating in incentivized pay-per-install programs — app makers could pay other apps to promote its apps as a marketing tactic. Those kinds of apps are now rejected from the App Store. The rule change appears to be an extension of that same effort.

Apple did not comment on the change. But it sounds like if your app-recommending app doesn’t go too far in imitating Apple’s own iOS App Store, you’re probably safe.