Washington Post: Apple’s “Tightly Controlled” App Store Has Scam Apps with Consumer Losses of $48 Million

Apparently, Apple customers should not put as much trust in the Apple App Store as Apple would have customers believe. Apple has long maintained that its exclusive control of the App Store is essential to the protection of consumers, and that Apple only lets the best apps list on the App Store; and this justifies their 30% revenue cut from app developers. Apple’s claim is part of their defense in a lawsuit Epic Games, Inc. v. Apple Inc. (May 3–24, 2021), whereby Epic Games’ founder Tim Sweeney challenged Apple’s 30% revenue cut. Epic Games game wanted to have the capability to either bypass the App Store for installation their Fortnite app on Apple iPhones or have Apple take less of a cut. Apple claims this 30% revenue cut is a protection fee. However, Apple’s monopoly over how consumers access apps on iPhones can actually create an environment that gives consumers a false sense of safety, according to claims by experts. The Washington Post investigated those claims.




The Washington Post published Sunday, June 6, 2021 that almost 2 percent of Apple’s top-grossing apps analyzed on a single day were apps that have caused consumers fraudulent losses of $48 million.

In a separate April 21, 2021 hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Apple’s chief compliance officer Kyle Andeer defended the App Store against allegations of scams and fake reviews. On the day of the testimony by Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer, who was also defending his company’s procedures for the App Store, there were 18 of 1,000 apps (1.8%) that a Washington Post analysis defined as scams.

How the Washington Post Defined App Store Scams

“The Post defined a scam as any app that takes money from customers using misleading tactics, including manipulated ratings and reviews as well as tactics that can trick people into paying for something accidentally or because they believed they had no choice. The Post also looked for keywords in the reviews section of the apps and patterns or complaints from customers who felt misled, tricked or scammed.

The Washington Post found that problematic apps often provided services related to dating, spying, and Internet security. Surprisingly, one was a guitar tuner app known as Guitar Tuner Pro, which had the highest revenue of $6 million among the problematic apps. Another source, an app review website known as Apprview published reviews including that the guitar app is absolute garbage and charged a consumer’s credit card $8.70 per month without notification. Note that Apple obtains consumers’ credit card numbers for all Apple App store users, so unscrupulous App distributors can easily charge customers’ credit cards without any special authorization. Regarding the guitar tuner app, multiple people reported unclear billing practices and difficulty with finding out how to cancel the subscription. The App still exists on the App Store. There is even a review on the App Store that reports there are no instructions regarding how to cancel the subscription. Instead of providing the instructions for all to see, a company rep named Alice provides an email address and says “we will do our best to help you.”




Keep in mind Apple itself profits from these scams because Apple takes a cut of up to 30 percent of app revenue generated via App Store purchases and subscriptions.

Here are some examples of other scams …

(1) A QR code reader app that charges people $4.99 per week for a feature that is not needed in a third-party app because the QR coded reader feature is included free with the built-in Apple camera app.

(2) VPN apps that are designed to protect a user’s privacy by routing their Internet traffic through a remote server, but while forwarding data and traffic from iPhones, the VPN app can also obtain passwords and sensitive login information.

In all five cases, Apple customers complained in the review section that they were drawn to the apps by misleading advertisements elsewhere on the Internet, using “scareware,” a form of malware which scares iPhone users into thinking their iPhone has been infected by a virus.

According to the Washington Post, the following five VPN apps raised red flags because of suspicious ratings and user complaints on the App Store.

Prime Shield,

Spy Block,

Secure & Fast VPN Protector,

CyGuard VPN, and

Upcure

According to Washington Post writers Reed Albergotti and Chris Alcantara, the Apple “support” links for three of the VPN apps lead to Russian websites that appear nearly identical to one another. The article suggests that the developers may be part of the same entity using multiple Apple developer accounts.

(3) Fleeceware apps use inauthentic customer reviews to raise rankings in the App Store and give these apps a sense of superiority to convince customers to pay higher prices for a service that may be lower quality, but might have higher rankings than better apps that have only have honest, legitimate customer reviews.

(4) Fake apps that claim to enhance name-brand products have made it past the review process. For example, a “SmartThings” app pretends to be a genuine Samsung remote control for the Apple iPhone, but it’s not developed by Samsung, it’s developed by TV Cast Co., Ltd. The developer charges a fee ($3.99 per week or $4.99 per month) to use the remote app on the iPhone. Many reviews say the app doesn’t work, and one customer described the free trial only lasted three days. Yes, as of June 7, 2021 the app still exists on the Apple App Store — even though the Washington Post flagged the bad app.

(5) Imposter apps have also made it past the review process. A counterfeit version of the Temple Run video game with no screen shots, garbage marketing text, and almost all 1-star ratings on the App store became at one point the #1 free app on the App Store, according to a internal rant email to App Store executives from Apple Fellow Phil Schiller, whose previous title was Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing. Schiller was exasperated that the counterfeit app passed the review process. Irony? Notice the similar spelling Schiller’s name to “shill” defined as an accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others.




“A dating app called uDates stood out because of suspicious reviews and user complaints on the App Store. The app, which promises you’ll “get close with someone you’re already close to,” requires an upgrade to a premium account for $20 a month to respond to the women who began messaging within seconds of signing up. The app, owned by a Latvian company called Battika SIA, did not respond to a request for comment. It has not been removed from the App Store.”

— Washington Post

While the uDates app still exists on the App Store as of Monday, June 7, 2021, the Washington Post claims that two-thirds of the 18 apps The Post flagged to Apple were removed from the App Store.

Flashback: Congresswoman Lucy McBath grills Tim Cook on coincidence of Apple blocking apps when Apple introduced its own app with the same parental control features.

Georgia Congresswoman Lucy McBath questions Apple CEO Tim Cook about why the company limits certain apps from the App Store. YouTube Tips ⓘ




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