Apple's App Store is rife with scam apps, says a new report.
"Of the highest 1,000 grossing apps on the App Store, nearly two percent are scams," The Washington Post (opens in new tab) reported yesterday (June 6), based on analysis conducted by its reporters. "Those apps have bilked consumers out of an estimated $48 million during the time they've been on the App Store."
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Among the worst offenders were three VPN apps, which promised more secure internet connections but delivered "scareware" ads designed to frighten people into buying fake iPhone antivirus software, and a QR-code reader that charges $5 per week for a function that's already built into iOS. There were also three suspect dating apps.
"Apple profits from these apps because it takes a cut of up to a 30 percent of all revenue generated through the App Store," said the Post, which is owned by Amazon head honcho Jeff Bezos.
Of the 18 apps that The Post reported to Apple as scams, 12 had been removed by the time of the Post story's publication.
Although Apple now has a Mac App Store for its desktop and laptop apps, the Post's story focused on iOS apps. It analyzed the top 1,000 apps as reported by Apple on April 21.
The Post's report comes right before Apple's WWDC 2021 conference, at which the company is expected to unveil iOS 15, macOS 12 and possibly new hardware. This is also two weeks after testimony concluded in the Epic Games vs. Apple vs. civil trial, during which Apple's tight control of the App Store was scrutinized. A decision in the case is expected later this year.
Apple insists that its firm control over the App Store is necessary to protect users from malicious apps. There's no denying that the effort's been largely successful. Over the iPhone's 14-year existence, the number of "in the wild" instances of iOS malware has barely cracked double digits. Contrast that with Google's Play Store for Android, in which hundreds of malicious apps are discovered every year.
It doesn't have to be malware to be malicious
But scams don't have to be malware. One software developer told the Post he paid $19 for an iPhone app in the App Store that said it was a remote control for a Samsung TV set, but the app turned out to be fake.
The software developer told the Post that he assumed that any app in the App Store had to be genuine, because it would have been reviewed by Apple.
"If people do believe or are not worried about being scammed, then there's going to be a lot of victimization," an economics professor told the Post. (The app was not one of the 18 that the Post found on its own.)
That app, called "Smart Things: Smart View App (opens in new tab)," was still in the App Store today (June 7). It claims to "Remote control your Samsung Smart TV" as well as "Cast Media Files from Dropbox & Google Drive" and "Search and cast your favorite music tracks," among other functions.
The app is free to download, but then charges subscription fees on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis beginning at $1.99. A "Lifetime" subscription is available for $19.99. The listed developer, TV Cast Company Ltd., also makes apps that claim to be remote controls for Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick and LG and Vizio (spelled "Vizo") TV sets.
Seven similar apps made by the same company are in the Google Play Store for Android. There is no contact information, or much information of any kind, on the TV Cast company website, https://tvcast.in/. Registry information for the website domain name was blocked.
In a separate Twitter thread yesterday, Mac and iOS software developer Jeff Johnson (opens in new tab) said that the App Store is a perfect hunting ground for scammers.
"Everything about App Store that supposedly makes it easier for developers to reach and sell to customers makes it easier for scams," Johnson wrote. "In fact, it's easier for scams than for honest devs, because the latter won't buy fake ratings, reviews, write misleading descriptions, manipulate keywords, etc."
I don't think most people understand the economics of scams.Everything about App Store that supposedly makes it easier for developers to reach and sell to customers makes it easier for scams. In fact, it's easier for scams than for honest devs, because the latter won't buy fakeJune 6, 2021
"We hold developers to high standards to keep the App Store a safe and trusted place for customers to download software, and we will always take action against apps that pose a harm to users,” an Apple spokesperson told the Post.
Tom's Guide has also reached out to Apple for comment, and we will update this story when we receive a reply.