Published: Thu, June 15, 2017
Sport | By Charlene Craig

Shady developers are turning Apple's app subscriptions into giant scams


"These are the exact sort of apps that the App Store review process should be primarily looking to block", Gruber wrote on his Daring Fireball blog in response to Lin's research. But when we tried to release to the App Store, we got hit with "Your app contains images and references of Pepe the Frog, which are considered objectionable content".

The other problem is Apple's relatively new app advertising system, App Store Search Ads, which Lin found several scam apps abusing. But at number 10 he spotted an app: "Mobile protection:Clean & Security VPN", spelled exactly as shown here. "I was one Touch ID away from a $400 A MONTH subscription to reroute all my internet traffic to a scammer?"

Note that during the Q1 2017 call with analysts, CEO Tim Cook said the App Store continued to rake in a lot of revenue for Apple and app developers.

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It has now been removed from the US App Store (but is apparently still accessible in the Belize App Store) but since it was posted on 14 April, it is estimated by Mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower to have made around $80,000 a month. Ads display a small blue icon signifying an advertisement, but otherwise, they're almost indistinguishable from search results. There is no filtering or approval process for them, so sketchy app developers can pay to have their apps listed high in search results.

Meanwhile, developers will have to ask themselves whether they take a cut of the tips or pass the full 70% on to the content creators. Because every app in the App Store has to be approved by Apple, curious consumers can download and try out any number of apps without having to worry about malware, adware, or any other type of issue that Apple likes to claim plagues the Google Play Store. Once the user rates the app he will never see that again. One anti-virus app told him its cost US$99.99 for a seven-day subscription. "Maybe this has been on their radar for awhile, but they haven't been taking it seriously enough". Much like the apps Lin found, "QR code -" is also gaming Apple's App Store search ads. "The App Store sandboxing rules mean that anti-virus software couldn't really do anything useful anyway". They're taking advantage of the fact that there's no filtering or approval process for ads, and that ads look nearly indistinguishable from real results, and some ads take up the entire search result's first page.

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