Apple Application Store – Worse Than A Fleamarket

There are a lot of scams in the Apple Application Store, and nearly 2% of the top selling apps in the store are pure hoaxes.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has long argued that it needs to control app distribution on iPhones or else the App Store will turn into a “flea market.” 

However, scams are hiding in plain sight among the 1.8 million apps on the App Store. Customers of several VPN apps, which ostensibly protect users’ data, complained in Apple Application Store reviews that the apps falsely claimed their devices were infected with a virus in order to trick them into downloading and paying for software they didn’t require.  A QR code reader app that is still available on the App Store dupes customers into paying $4.99 per week for a service that is now included in the iPhone’s camera app. Some apps falsely claim to be from well-known companies such as Amazon and Samsung, while they are not…

According to The Washington Post, nearly two percent of the top 1,000 grossing apps on the Apple Application Store are scams. According to market research firm Appfigures, those apps have cost consumers an estimated $48 million during their time on the Apple Application Store. The magnitude of the problem has never been reported before. 

Furthermore, Apple profited from these apps because it takes a 30% cut of all revenue generated through the App Store. According to The Post’s analysis, “fleeceware” apps are even more common, as they use inauthentic customer reviews to move up in the Apple Application Store rankings and give apps a sense of legitimacy in order to convince customers to pay higher prices for a service that is usually offered elsewhere with higher legitimate customer reviews.

Apple, the most valuable company in US history, is facing unprecedented scrutiny for how it wields its power and is fighting to keep it, including in a landmark trial that concluded last month. Regulators and competitors have focused specifically on the Apple Application Store: unlike app stores on other mobile operating systems, Apple’s store has no competition and is the only way for iPhone owners to download software to their phones without circumventing Apple’s restrictions. Apple uses it to maintain a tight grip on software distribution and payments for its iOS mobile operating system.

Apple has long maintained that its exclusive control of the App Store is critical to customer protection, and it only allows the best apps to run on its platform. However, experts believe that Apple’s monopoly on how customers access apps on iPhones can create an environment that gives customers a false sense of security. Experts say Apple has little incentive to improve the App Store because it doesn’t face any major competition and because so many consumers are locked into using it on iPhones.

Apple isn’t the only company dealing with this problem: they’re also on Google’s Play Store, which is available on Google’s Android mobile operating system. Google, unlike Apple, does not claim that its Play Store is closely watched. On Android phones, consumers can download apps from various stores, creating competition between app stores.

Apple claims that it is constantly improving its methods for detecting scams and that it typically detects them within a month of their appearance on the App Store. According to a recent press release, Apple used new tools to verify the authenticity of user reviews and removed 470,000 app developer accounts from the App Store last year. Developers, on the other hand, can open new accounts and continue to distribute new apps.

Apple claims to be the only company with the resources and know-how to police the App Store. In the trial that Epic Games, the creator of the popular video game “Fortnite,” brought against Apple last month for alleged monopoly power abuse, Apple’s main defense was that competition would weaken protections against unwanted apps that pose security risks to customers. The federal judge presiding over the case has stated that a decision could be issued by August.

The prevalence of scams on Apple’s Application Store was a key factor in the trial. Apple’s lawyers were so focused on the company’s role in making the App Store safe that Epic’s attorneys accused them of attempting to scare the court into ruling in Apple’s favor. Other internal emails discovered during the trial, dating back to 2013, show Apple’s Phil Schiller, who runs the App Store, expressing dismay when fraudulent apps passed App Store review.

According to Schiller’s email exchange, after a rip-off version of the Temple Run video game became the top-rated app, he sent an irate message to two other Apple executives in charge of the store. “Remember our talk about finding bad apps with low ratings? Remember our talk about becoming the ‘Nordstroms’ of stores in terms of service quality?” Schiller asked his team. 

“How does an obvious rip off of the super popular Temple Run, with no screenshots, garbage marketing text, and almost all 1-star ratings become the #1 free app in the store?” “Is no one reviewing these apps? Is no one watching the store?” 

Despite the fact that the Apple Application Store ratings section is filled with customer complaints referring to apps as scams, Apple customers have no way to report this to Apple other than contacting a regular Apple customer service representative. Apple used to have a “report a problem” button in the App Store, just below the ratings and reviews section, that allowed users to report inappropriate apps. According to discussions among Apple customers on Apple’s website, the feature was removed around 2016.

There is evidence that Apple’s store is no safer than Google’s when it comes to one type of scam. In March, the company Avast searched the Apple and Google app stores for fleeceware apps. The company discovered 134 in the App Store and 70 in the Play Store, with over a billion downloads, roughly half of which were on Android and half on iOS, and revenue of $365 million on Apple and $38.5 million on Android. The majority of the victims were from the United States.

According to Avast, apps that charge weekly subscription fees are frequently suspicious. By charging people on a weekly basis, the subscriptions appear to be lower, and some customers will assume they are monthly without reading the fine print – and those fees can add up. In one instance, the company discovered that a palm reading app called FortuneScope charged up to $3,432 per year.

Another strategy is to not rely solely on an app’s overall rating, which can be manipulated. A customer should scroll down to read the reviews as well.

The majority of the scam apps have high ratings. However, a careful reading of the reviews may reveal that some are not genuine. A quick internet search reveals that there are several services that sell positive App Store reviews. In some cases, bots are used to conduct the reviews. Real people are used in higher-quality reviews.

There are sneakier ways to get positive feedback. One method was used by the app “Streamer for Fire Stick TV,” which received 4.4 stars and 8,500 ratings. The app appears to be offered by Amazon but is not. It charges users $3 per month or a one-time fee of $10 for a lifetime premium subscription.

Its high ranking, however, appears to be the result of a coding trick that takes advantage of a flaw in Apple’s ratings system. The code in the Fire TV app forces users to rate the app, preventing them from clicking on anything other than four or five stars. The coding trick and bug were discovered using software developed by Corellium, a security research tool company.

Source: The Washington Post

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