Home iOS It’s time for an App Store scam app crackdown

It’s time for an App Store scam app crackdown

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Any enterprise knows the biggest problem with rapid business expansion is scale; as a company’s business grows, it will face a range of unintended consequences. One of these can be a stealthy scourge of scam apps being sold at app stores, including Apple’s own.

We didn’t see this coming

Did we see this coming? Of course we did.

Cast your mind back to the early days of the App Store and you may recall the “I Am Rich” app, which cost $999.99 and did almost precisely nothing. It consisted of a glowing red button and an icon which displayed the words:

“I am rich

I deserv it

I am good,

healthy & successful.”

Eight people purchased the app before Apple removed it from the store after Dan Frommer called it “a joke that smells like a scammy rip-off” while Brian X. Chen said those who spent their money on it proved themselves to be jerks.

While two people got refunds, six people held onto the app — so at least some people actually liked the chutzpah. 

That was then, then when there were a few hundred thousand iPhones. Now there’s more than a billion in use. That could mean big business for a successful scam, even as users become more accustomed to subscription-based services.

The thing is, while apps of this kind are a rarity, they aren’t rare enough, and pressure is building for Apple and other app store vendors to crack down on such scams. This should also improve the process of identifying and surfacing useful apps.

Scratching beneath the surface

To get a grip on the extent to which scam apps similar to I Am Rich  (which at least had a sense of humor) are infiltrating Apple’s App Store, 9to5Mac reports that developer Kosta Eleftheriou spent the last few weeks exploring store listings to Tweet about the scams he’s come across.

His research revealed the existence of non-functional apps that claim to have the same tools as one of his own apps, but act to lock users into recurring subscriptions. He has also exposed how these apps get users by paying for fake listings and reviews that act to legitimize the apps and confuse consumers.

There is real money at stake.

His data shows some of the developers publishing these apps are making tens of thousands of dollars each month selling something that claims to emulate functionalities they just don’t have.

His work also notes that some of the software being sold this way makes use of weekly, rather than monthly, subscription billing. I guess this suggests developers of these scam apps reckon that if they can trick people for just a week, they’ll still make money before the inevitable cancellation of that app.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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