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'Executive review board' has final say on controversial App Store titles

The now-defunct Infowars app.

Each week, an "executive review board" led by Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller meets to decide the fate of controversial App Store submissions, a report revealed on Friday.

The ERB establishes policy for Apple's Worldwide Developer Relations division, often dubbed App Review for short, CNBC said. In the case of apps on the edge of rejection, the ERB is the end of the line for decision making. Normally appeals must pass through the regular App Review Board before getting that far.

It was reportedly Schiller and the ERB that banned Alex Jones' Infowars from the App Store. While Infowars is infamous for things like calling the Sandy Hook school massacre a hoax, Apple used threats against a reporter as its reasoning. The company had taken some flak for pulling Infowars podcasts but leaving the app intact.

To support a growing workforce, new App Review offices recently arose in Cork, Ireland and Shanghai, China, an anonymous source said. The division is believed to have over 300 reviewers in all, and while it's headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., teams are often fluent and/or specialized in non-English languages.

Schiller "rarely if ever" visits the offices where app reviews take place, CNBC continued. Day-to-day affairs are said to belong to VP Ron Okamoto, as well as an unnamed director who joined Apple after its TestFlight takeover in 2015.

The review process begins with reviewers "claiming" a group of apps through a Web portal called App Claim. Those apps are often tested on an iPad, even if it's an iPhone app, though there are dedicated stations for testing Apple Watch and Apple TV apps as needed.

Beyond screening for bugs or illegal content, the reviewers check against the latest App Store guidelines and decide whether to accept, reject, or hold a submission. The whole procedure can take just a few minutes, since most apps are simple, multiple sources indicated.

Reviewers are allegedly under the gun to meet quotas between 50 and 100 apps per day, something tracked by an app called Watchtower. They can also be called to task for other criteria, such as whether decisions are later overruled, and whether they meet SLA (service-level agreement) goals of reviewing 50% of apps within 24 to 48 hours.

On July 30, 2018, the SLA rate fell to 6%, at which point App Review management announced it was "opening up" 12-hour days.

"Please note that you should not work over 12 hours in one day," an internal email cautioned.