Promo code users kept from rating, reviewing apps

A new Apple App Store policy keeps people who haven't paid for an app from rating or reviewing it. The move appears aimed at developers exploiting the system to game ratings system.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
When trying to rate applications acquired by promo code, the App Store now tells you to go buy or download it.
When trying to rate applications acquired by promo code, the App Store now tells you to go buy or download it. CNET

A new Apple policy change aims to keep users who have not purchased an application from rating or reviewing it on the App Store. Now when users who have installed an app from a promo code try to review it, they'll get a pop-up message that says "you must own this item to write a customer review," as if they had never downloaded it.

An official response from iTunes support, received by a forum-goer over at iOS games site TouchArcade, notes the change, saying that the company now requires ratings and reviews of applications to be done by paid users, keeping those who may have installed the application from a developer's promo code from contributing to its aggregate rating or written review log.

Apple offers iOS developers a limited number of these promo codes as a means to provide free versions of paid applications to users. Users enter these codes into the redeem section of the App Store, just like they would a song code in iTunes, and the application begins downloading. Apple allows developers to request and dole out 50 copies of the application per update, giving those who update frequently a chance at expanding how many codes can be had.

Along with this method, Apple also offers a way for developers to configure up to 100 iOS devices to run that specific build of an application by building copies that match up with each user's device UDID (unique identifier). The two downsides to this method are that the provisioning profile that accompanies these builds can expire, and the application is not eligible for updates. Nonetheless, this method continues to be used by developers to provide testers, press, and other parties with early copies of applications that can be installed and run outside of the App Store.

Apple has recently made more aggressive moves in policing similar behaviors in the App Store, cracking down on companies and applications that incentivize installations to help boost popularity, as well as adjusting the top apps algorithm to re-weight certain categories over others. This move is very likely to combat operations that had users leaving high ratings and positive feedback on games and applications in exchange for free copies. High marks in both categories are two factors that can get potential buyers interested in investing in an application, netting the developer cash and even a higher spot on Apple's charts.

Apple's last major app reviews change was back in late 2008, with the company mandating that users be purchasers or downloaders to rate and review an application. That was to keep the deluge of reviews by people who never even downloaded the applications from making an impact on those who had. Following that, Apple removed reviews from users who never downloaded or purchased the applications, and made it so that reviews were tied to a specific version number of the application to make sure raters weren't harping on issues that had long since been fixed.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the changes. CNET independently confirmed through a number of applications acquired through promo codes that the change is in effect on both the iPhone and iPad.