Apple continues to break financial records but - following shock revelation after revelation after revelation after revelation - concerns are mounting about one major source of that income: the Apple App Store. And now the biggest bombshell yet has been dropped on iPhone owners.
Having garnered international attention following his recent exposés of high profile App Store fleeceware, casinos hidden inside kids games and a ‘factory’ of iOS VPN scam apps, developer Kosta Eleftheriou has announced new software which he believes has uncovered App Store fraud against iPhone and iPad owners that “is measured in BILLIONS, not millions”.
“I have so far found hundreds of scam apps, including several multimillion dollar scams that go unchecked for months or even years, while Apple collects their 30% cut,” said Eleftheriou, speaking to me about his new software.
The developer had teased the software earlier this month, quoting a 2015 request from Apple Fellow and former Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing, Phil Schiller, to his team to “PLEASE develop a system to automatically find low rated apps and purge them!!”. No such software was made, until Eleftheriou took it upon himself to build it.
Notably, Eleftheriou shared one screenshot (below) targeting a single developer, Dragon Game Studio, which has over 40 scam apps currently live on the App Store with combined revenues of over $3.5M.
For his part, Eleftheriou has skin in the game. He developed popular Apple Watch app FlickType, only to see its success marred by a series of scam apps which traded under similar names. Eleftheriou says he complained to Apple, but said action was not taken in an attempt to force a cheap sale of his app to the company. He is subsequently suing Apple.
Of course, regardless of motivation, Eleftheriou is far from alone in his criticism and exposure of App Store malpractice. Epic Games (maker of Fortnite), Spotify, Match Group (owner of Tinder) and many more have recently attacked Apple for unfair and exploitative App Store practices. Senior Apple anti-fraud engineer Eric Friedman was also quoted in legal documents last month, saying App Store defences were like “bringing a plastic butter knife to a gunfight”.
“The App Store is not a trustworthy place to download apps, but unfortunately it’s the only place,” Eleftheriou told me, in a warning to iPad and iPhone owners. “So be diligent and do your own research outside the App Store before downloading any app. Don’t fall for Apple’s marketing claims, and don’t trust any of the ratings or reviews. Don’t assume Apple will refund you or even notify you if you’ve fallen victim to a scam app.”
Eleftheriou said he plans to “share more scams and numbers soon”. In the meantime, I have contacted Apple and will update this post if I receive a response.