The Apple Developer NDA And Why Tech Sites (Generally) Don't Care

16 June, 2012 09:14PM ยท 4 minute read

Another WWDC is behind us and another shiny new, or perhaps a not quite finished yet Beta is ready for eager developers to start playing with. The staggering number of “pretend developers” that sign up just to install the latest operating system on their iOS device but have never and will never develop an App for their iOS device(s) is sure to be a significant number.

Time and again technology news websites offer “hands-on” and “first looks” at iOS builds as they are released. They have signed up claiming to be a developer to obtain the latest build, play with it, write down and post what they find and wait for the torrent of page views to ensue.

Now wait just a moment. What about the NDA? That’s Non-Disclosure Agreement for those not versed in legalise. (Okay fair point - I’m not totally versed in it either and expect very few truly are…) I would like to point out that whilst I am not a developer at the moment I have been in the past with an App in the App Store and as such I’m going to be a bit careful about what I say and link to. First and foremost however I need to link to the current Apple “Developer Agreement” which is unfortunately only available if you sign up as a developer hence the external site link. Section 10 of the iOS agreement called Confidentiality says it all in legalise, with 12.2 (b) stating in effect that if you don’t keep pre-released software details confidential then you’ll be kicked out of the developer program and a few other possible fates, not worse than death but annoying perhaps.

Developers that rely on Apple and the App Store for their income will not break the rules: they can’t afford to. If they get banned they will lose their revenue and in some cases all of their income. That’s a strong incentive to take the NDA seriously.

Pretend developers that want to just download and play with the latest firmware, or those that are trying to make money from it with no income intended or expected from Apple are free to do as they please. If they are an individual then Apple will not likely track them down or lock them out provided they aren’t making money from disclosing features of the upcoming Beta software. On the other hand if they are releasing information about the new software that is making them ad-based revenue from lots of page views then Apple may take it more seriously.

Let us suppose they did. They could shut down the account of the offending individual from that company (let’s say Gizmodo for example). All Gizmodo need to do is persuade another employee to sign up and foot the bill for the application fee and they’re off and running again. It would be problematic for Apple to try and screen all applicants to see if they are in any way related to Gizmodo who had just had their membership revoked. (Whilst Gizmodo had been banned from Apple events due to the iPhone 4 scandal, so far as I know they haven’t been banned as developers)

The flip side of this is that Apple is getting free publicity. They don’t need to release any update to their websites, no keynotes nor press events and these Tech Sites will do their advertising for them. How many features do they have to release to the public for testing and how many are tied to new hardware in their next device? It’s easy enough to hide functionality due to be released in conjunction with new hardware (the next iPhone or iPod Touch for example) without revealing it to Beta testers. Apple surely release the occasional extra feature with versions of the Beta that give further hints and clues about upcoming features: all of which are snapped up by Tech Sites and a rumour-hungry world-wide audience of enthusiasts.

Perhaps then the NDA is more of a formality. A rule that is more honoured in the breach than the observance (thank you William). Apple may never truly crack down on NDA breakers and “pretend developers” and if they don’t Tech Sites will continue to not care about the NDA, whilst ever fearful genuine Apple Developers will tread carefully; just in case.