Apple has fired at least five employees from its China App Store team over improper relationships and contacts with outside developers and consultants.
An internal audit uncovered suspicious activity indicating the employees had accepted complimentary meals, travel, and other benefits from certain developers. In return, the employees provided preferential App Store exposure and visibility for the developers’ apps.
While the employees did not have authority to directly approve app submissions, they could influence featuring apps more prominently in the App Store. This brought the apps higher volumes of traffic, downloads, and visibility.
It remains unclear whether the employees actively recommended or advocated for the apps of developers they had inappropriate ties with. Apple did not provide specifics on the nature of the misconduct uncovered.
In a statement, Apple said it expects all global employees to adhere to its strict code of conduct policies. The company claims to thoroughly investigate any reports of inappropriate behavior, taking decisive action including termination where warranted.
The latest terminations follow previous instances of Apple firing China App Store employees over misconduct. Last year, an employee was dismissed over sexual misconduct allegations involving a staffer from Chinese gaming firm miHoYo, (MARCH 30, Tim Cook Visits miHoYo, Praises Genshin Impact Team).
Apple has faced increasing scrutiny over how it manages its lucrative China App Store, which generates billions in revenue annually. Developers have complained of unreliable app review processes and unfair treatment unless they have connections.
This latest scandal further damages trust in Apple’s ability to impartially manage its App Store, especially in China. If employees can be influenced by outside developers, it risks distorting competitive dynamics.
Apple will need to take a hard look at compliance policies and oversight for its China App Store team. Relying on periodic audits is insufficient if opportunistic employees find ways to profit from improper developer relationships in between.
Stronger safeguards and monitoring are essential to maintain integrity and prevent preferential treatment. This will ensure all developers get a fair shake regardless of connections or influence.
For a company that prides itself on principled leadership, Apple has struggled to enforce consistent discipline across its sprawling China operations. As the world’s largest iPhone market, China remains vital to Apple’s fortunes.
But maintaining growth in China cannot come at the expense of compromising Apple’s core values around ethical responsibility. Cook must redouble efforts on accountability before more App Store scandals emerge.