Apple might finally be going after app subscription scammers

Apple is removing scammy app subscriptions. The move comes after two reports were recently published that criticized the practice.

App Store

In recent weeks, TechCrunch and Forbes have both published reports on App Store app that confuse users into buying expensive and recurring subscription plans. Some of the apps identified in those reports have now been removed, which suggests Apple is beginning to crack down on the practice.... Read the rest of this post here


"Apple might finally be going after app subscription scammers" is an article by iDownloadBlog.com.
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Sneaky subscriptions are plaguing the App Store

Subscriptions have turned into a booming business for app developers, accounting for $10.6 billion in consumer spend on the App Store in 2017, and poised to grow to $75.7 billion by 2022. But alongside this healthy growth, a number of scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions in order to trick users into signing up […]

Subscriptions have turned into a booming business for app developers, accounting for $10.6 billion in consumer spend on the App Store in 2017, and poised to grow to $75.7 billion by 2022. But alongside this healthy growth, a number of scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions in order to trick users into signing up for expensive and recurring plans. They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.

Apple will soon have an influx of consumer complaints on its hands if it doesn’t reign in these scammers more quickly.

However, the company’s focus as of late has been more so on getting developers to give subscriptions a try — even holding “secret” meetings where it evangelizes the business model that’s earning developers (and therefore Apple itself) a lot of money. In the meantime, a good handful of apps from bad actors have been allowed to flourish.

Utilities Top Grossing Apps are worst offenders 

Today, the majority of the Top Grossing apps on Apple’s App Store are streaming services, dating sites, entertainment apps or games. But when you get past the market leaders — apps like Fortnite, Netflix, Pandora, Tinder, Hulu, etc. — and down into the top hundreds on the Top Grossing chart, another type of app appears: Utilities.

How are apps like QR code readers, document scanners, translators and weather apps raking in so much money? Especially when some of their utilitarian functions can be found elsewhere for much less, or even for free?

This raises the question as to whether some app developers are trying to scam App Store users by way of subscriptions.

We’ve found that does appear to be true, in many cases.

After reading through the critical reviews across the top money-making utilities, you’ll find customers complaining that the apps are too aggressive in pushing subscriptions (e.g. via constant prompts), offer little functionality without upgrading, provide no transparency around how free trials work and make it difficult to stop subscription payments, among other things.

Here are a few examples. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a representative one, just to illustrate the problem. A recent Forbes article listed many more, if you’re curious.

Scanner AppThis No. 69 Top Grossing app is raking in a whopping $14.3 million per year for its document scanning utility, according to Sensor Tower data. It has an unbelievable number of customer reviews, as well — nearly 340,000 as of today, and a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. That will lead most customers to believe this is a good and trustworthy app. But when you parse through the critical reviews, you’ll see some valid complaints.

Tap around in the app and you’ll be constantly prompted to subscribe to a subscription ranging from $3.99 a week to $4.99 per month, or start a free trial. But the subscription following the free trial kicks in after only 3 days — something that’s detailed in the fine print, but often missed. Consumers clearly don’t understand what they’re agreeing to, based on their complaints. And many of the negative reviews indicate customers feel they got duped into paying.

QR Code Reader — Forbes recently found that TinyLab’s QR Code Reader was tricking users into a ridiculously priced $156 per year subscription. This has now earned the app the rank of No. 220 Top Grossing across the App Store, and annual revenue of $5.3 million.

QR Code Scanner, via Forbes 

Again, this “free” app immediately starts pushing you to upgrade by starting a “free trial.” And again, this trial converts to a subscription after only 3 days. Can you imagine paying $156 per year for QR code scanning — something the iPhone camera app now does natively?

Weather Alarms – With a 4-star rating after hundreds of reviews, this weather alerting app seems to be handy. But in reality, it’s been using a “dark pattern” to trick users into pushing a button that will start a free trial or sign them up for subscription. And it’s working — to the tune of over a million in annual revenue.

A full screen ad appears in the app, offering two buttons — try for free or pay. The small “X” to close the ad doesn’t even immediately appear! Users then end up paying some $20/month for weather alerts. That seems… excessive.

Legitimate developers have complained about this app for months, but Apple even featured it on its big screen at WWDC. (Watch the video embedded below. It’s incredible.)

*After speaking to Apple about this app, Weather Alarms was removed from the App Store over the weekend. 

Translate Assistant – The same developer behind Weather Alarms offers this real-time translation app promising instant translations across more than 100 languages and has 4.7 stars after nearly 4,000 ratings.

But the app is also super aggressive about pushing its subscriptions. With every app launch, a splash screen appears with three different boxes — 1 month ($12.99/mo), 12 months ($44.99/year) or the “free trial,” which converts users to a pricey $7.99/week plan after only 3 days.

Meanwhile, the option to “continue with a limited version” is in small, gray text that’s intentionally been designed to be hard to see.

The app is making $1.3 million a year, per Sensor Tower data.

As you can tell, the issue with many of these scammy apps is that they capitalize on people not reading the fine print, or they allow an app’s design to guide them to the right button to tap. Trickery like this isn’t anything new — it’s been around on the web as long as software has been sold. It’s just that, now, subscriptions are the hip way to scam.

These developers also know that most people — especially if they’ve just downloaded a new app — aren’t going to immediately subscribe. So they push people to their “free trial” instead. But that “free trial” is actually just an agreement to buy a subscription unless you visit the iTunes Settings and cancel it right away.

Many of these “free trials” convert almost immediately, too, which is another way developers are cashing in. They don’t give you time to think about it before they start charging.

“It’s incredibly frustrating how little has been done to thwart these scams,” says Contrast founder and longtime developer David Barnard, whose apps include Weather Atlas and Launch Center Pro. “It erodes trust in the App Store, which ultimately hurts Apple and conscientious developers who use subscriptions,” he says.

Apple also buries Subscription management 

The issue of scam apps may not always be the failure of App Store review. It’s possible that the scammy apps sneak in their tricks after Apple’s App Review team approves them, making them harder to catch.

But for the time being, users have to take it upon themselves to cancel these sneaky subscriptions.

Unfortunately, Apple isn’t making it as easy for users to get to their subscriptions as it could be.

Compare Apple’s design with Google Play, where the option to manage Subscriptions is in the top-level navigation:

On the iPhone, it takes several more taps and a bit of scrolling to get to the same area in iOS Settings:

 

Above: Getting to subscriptions in the iPhone Settings (click images to view larger)

In the App Store itself, you can navigate to subscriptions in fewer taps, but it’s not obvious how. You first tap on your profile icon on the top right of the Home page, then your Apple ID, then scroll down to the bottom of the page. It’s still buried further than need be, considering how critical it is to manage these auto-payments.

“I firmly believe this is not the future we should be aspiring for in terms of user experience,” says Denys Zhadanov, VP at Readdle, makers of Scanner Pro, Spark, PDF Expert and other productivity apps, speaking about these scam apps. “Apple as a platform, as an ecosystem, has always been a symbol of trust. That means people can rely on it for personal life and work needs,” he continues.

“The App Store has always been a great place, overseen and curated by highly intelligent and ethical people. I believe the App Store can stay as it always has been, if the right measures are taken to deal with those developers who trick the system,” Zhadanov adds.

Today, most subscription-based businesses thriving on the App Store come from legitimate developers. But they know how scammers could easily ruin the market for everyone involved. If allowed to continue, these scams could lead to consumer distrust in subscriptions in general.

In a worst-case scenario, consumers may even go so far as to avoid downloading apps where subscriptions are offered as in-app purchases in order to protect themselves from scams.

For now, Apple is largely relying on user and developer reports via reportaproblem.apple.com — a site most probably don’t know exists — to help them fight scammers. It needs to do more.

In addition to making access to your subscriptions easier, it also needs to better police “Top Grossing” utilities and productivity apps — especially if the service’s value is questionable, and the 1-star reviews are specifically calling out concerns like “sneaky billing” or mentions other subscription tricks.

Apple declined to comment on the matter, but its Developer Guidelines clearly prohibit fraudulent behavior related to subscriptions, and insist that apps are clear about pricing. In other words, Apple has grounds to clear out these scammy subscription apps, if it chose to focus on this problem more closely in the future.

 

App Store generated 93% more revenue than Google Play in Q3

There’s always been a gap between how much money Apple’s App Store makes when compared with Google Play. But in the third quarter of 2018, that gap widened considerably – possibly to the widest point yet. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the App Store earned nearly 93% more than Google Play in […]

There’s always been a gap between how much money Apple’s App Store makes when compared with Google Play. But in the third quarter of 2018, that gap widened considerably – possibly to the widest point yet. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the App Store earned nearly 93% more than Google Play in the quarter, the largest gap since at least 2014 – or, when Sensor Tower began tracking Google Play data.

The firm says that approximately 66% of the $18.2 billion in mobile app revenue generated in Q3 2018 came from Apple’s App Store. The store made $12 billion in the quarter, up 23.3% from the $9.7 billion it made during the same period last year.

Meanwhile, Google Play earned $6.2 billion in the quarter, up 21.5% from the year-ago quarter’s $5.1 billion.

Based on Sensor Tower’s chart of top-grossing apps across both stores, subscriptions are continuing to aid in this revenue growth. Netflix remained the top-grossing non-game app for the third quarter in a row, bringing in an estimated $243.7 million across both platforms. Tinder and Tencent Video remained in the second and third spots, respectively.

Mobile game spending also helped fuel the revenue growth, with spending up 14.9% year-over-year during the quarter to reach $13.8 billion. In fact, it accounted for 76% of all app revenue across both platforms in the quarter, with $8.5 billion coming from the App Store and $5.3 billion from Google Play.

In terms of app downloads, however, Google Play still has the edge thanks to rapid adoption of lower-cost Android devices in emerging markets, the report said. App installs grew 10.9% across both stores, reaching 27.1 billion, up 24.4% from Q3 2017.

The rankings of the most downloaded apps also got a big shakeup in Q3, thanks to Bytedance’s short-video app TikTok absorbing Musical.ly during the quarter. As a result of the merger, it’s now the No. 4 ranked app worldwide, having grown 15% quarter-over-quarter and 440% year-over-year.

That puts it ahead of both Instagram (No. 5) and Snapchat (No. 10), in terms of Q3 app downloads, and sets the stage for Bytedance becoming a more serious player in the social app market.

Sensor Tower’s full report is available here.

DoNotPay app lets you sue someone with your iPhone

The aptly named DoNotPay app uses IBM Watson-powered artificial intelligence to help people win up to $25,000 in small claims court.

There’s a new app that lets you “sue anyone by pressing a button.” The aptly named DoNotPay app uses IBM Watson-powered artificial intelligence to help people win up to $25,000 in small claims court.... Read the rest of this post here


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China’s fast-rising Bullet Messenger hit with copyright complaint

Bullet Messenger, a fast-rising Chinese messaging upstart that’s gunning to take on local behemoth, WeChat, has been pulled from the iOS App Store owing to what its owners couch as a copyright complaint. Reuters reported the development earlier, saying Bullet’s owner, Beijing-based Kuairu Technology, claimed in a social media posting that the app had been taken down […]

Bullet Messenger, a fast-rising Chinese messaging upstart that’s gunning to take on local behemoth, WeChat, has been pulled from the iOS App Store owing to what its owners couch as a copyright complaint.

Reuters reported the development earlier, saying Bullet’s owner, Beijing-based Kuairu Technology, claimed in a social media posting that the app had been taken down from Apple’s app store because of a complaint related to image content provided by a partner.

“We are verifying the situation with the partner and will inform you as soon as possible when download capabilities are resumed,” it said in a statement on its official Weibo account.

The company did not specify which part of the app has been subject to a complaint.

We’ve reached out to Apple to ask if it can provide any more details.

According to checks by Reuters earlier today, the Bullet Messenger app was still available on China’s top Android app stores — including stores owned by WeChat owner Tencent, as well as Baidu and Xiaomi stores — which the news agency suggests makes it less likely the app has been pulled from iOS as a result of censorship by the state, saying apps targeted by regulators generally disappear from local app stores too.

Bullet Messenger only launched in August but quickly racked up four million users in just over a week, and also snagged $22M in funding.

By September it had claimed seven million users, and Chinese smartphone maker Smartisan — an investor in Bullet — said it planned to spend 1 billion yuan (~$146M) over the next six months in a bid to reach 100M users. Though in a battle with a competitive Goliath like WeChat (1BN+ active users) that would still be a relative minnow.

The upstart messenger has grabbed attention with its fast growth, apparently attracting users via its relatively minimal messaging interface and a feature that enables speech-to-text transcription text in real time.

Albeit the app has also raised eyebrows for allowing pornographic content to be passed around.

It’s possible that element of the app caught the attention of Chinese authorities which have been cracking down on Internet porn in recent years — even including non-visual content (such as ASMR) which local regulators have also judged to be obscene.

Although it’s equally possible Apple itself is responding to a porn complaint about Bullet’s iOS app.

Earlier this year the Telegram messaging app fell foul of the App Store rules and was temporarily pulled, as a result of what its founder described as “inappropriate content”.

Apple’s developer guidelines for iOS apps include a section on safety that proscribes “upsetting or offensive content” — including frowning on: “Apps with user-generated content or services that end up being used primarily for pornographic content.”

In Telegram’s case, the App Store banishment was soon resolved.

There’s nothing currently to suggest that Bullet’s app won’t also soon be restored.

How to create an App Store wish list with Notes or Lookmark

Do you miss the App Store Wish List for tracking apps you want to grab down the road? Here are two simple options for creating your own wish lists.

Maybe you’ve noticed, or perhaps you haven’t, but with the release of iOS 11 came the disappearance of the App Store Wish List feature. It didn’t make its way back in iOS 12, so if you’re still hoping for that wish list to keep track of apps you want, you do have other options.

Here’s how to create an App Store wish list with Notes as well as a third-party app called Lookmark.... Read the rest of this post here


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Overcast now offers more Siri Shortcuts & new Apple Watch complications

Overcast is one of the most popular podcast apps on the App Store. Thanks to a new update, it’s gotten even better. Check out the new features.

Overcast is one of the most popular podcast apps on the App Store. Thanks to a new update, it’s gotten even better.... Read the rest of this post here


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You can play Alto’s Adventure on your Mac now

Everyone’s favorite endless, serene snowboarding game just made the leap from mobile to the Mac App Store. Available now for $9.99, Alto’s Adventure for Mac is a desktop port of the side-scrolling snowscape game that’s won hearts and accolades since it first hit iOS in 2015. Earlier this year, the team behind Alto’s Adventure introduced […]

Everyone’s favorite endless, serene snowboarding game just made the leap from mobile to the Mac App Store. Available now for $9.99, Alto’s Adventure for Mac is a desktop port of the side-scrolling snowscape game that’s won hearts and accolades since it first hit iOS in 2015.

Earlier this year, the team behind Alto’s Adventure introduced a second game, Alto’s Odyssey, which trades the first game’s snowy terrain for sand and sun while maintaining its charm. If you’ve already spent some time with Alto’s Odyssey, the Mac version of the classic is a good reason to circle back.

The game’s serene setting and blissed out music make Alto’s Adventure eminently replayable, even if you’ve already sunk tens of hours into lengthening your scarf in an infinite procedurally generated snowy world dotted with charming villages, dramatic slopes and many, many things to trip over.

If you’ve yet to dive into Alto’s Adventure, and we really recommend that you do, the Mac version is probably a good starting place. For everyone else, progress in the game syncs across devices through iCloud, so it’s a good excuse to push a little further into one of the most thoughtful, pleasant mobile game experiences to date.

And while you’re hanging out in the Mac App Store, don’t forget to update to Mojave — Apple’s latest desktop operating system is available now.

MagicPhotos, Metronome, Readaway and other apps to check out this weekend

This week’s edition of our Apps of the Week roundup includes a fun AR video app, an app for making viral videos, and a sharp-looking text-to-speech reader. And as always, we’ve selected two great new games for you to check out.

This week’s edition of our Apps of the Week roundup includes a fun AR video app, an app for making viral videos, and a sharp-looking text-to-speech reader. And as always, we’ve selected two great new games for you to check out.... Read the rest of this post here


"MagicPhotos, Metronome, Readaway and other apps to check out this weekend" is an article by iDownloadBlog.com.
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HQ Trivia teases upcoming Wheel of Fortune-style mobile game

HQ Trivia is gearing up to debut a follow-up to its wildly popular live mobile game show. Called HQ Words, the company announced this morning they’ll release the Wheel of Fortune-style game in October. HQ Words. Coming this October. pic.twitter.com/e1TbDSHvV5 — HQ Trivia (@hqtrivia) September 18, 2018 HQ Trivia, which airs twice per day and awards […]

HQ Trivia is gearing up to debut a follow-up to its wildly popular live mobile game show.

Called HQ Words, the company announced this morning they’ll release the Wheel of Fortune-style game in October.

HQ Trivia, which airs twice per day and awards winners as much as $100,000 for successfully answering 12 questions, debuted on the app store last August and was a viral success. The game, usually hosted by comedian Scott Rogowsky (pictured above), spawned a whole cohort of copycats as a result

Its app store ranking, however, has been steadily decreasing in recent months, as pointed out by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine in a recent article on HQ Trivia’s Apple TV app launch. In a response to that article, HQ Trivia co-founder Rus Yusupov hinted at new games in development: “Games are a hits business and don’t grow exponentially forever. HQ has massive early traction and still millions playing daily. Also developing new game formats, one of which we think is really special and complements Trivia nicely. More soon! Until then thanks for playing.”

As of January, HQ Trivia was attracting more than 1 million gamers to its live broadcasts. According to Sensor Tower, its app has been downloaded nearly 13 million times.

The company, founded by the entrepreneurs behind Vine, has raised some $24 million to date, garnering a $100 million valuation earlier this year. It’s backed by Founders Fund, Shrug Capital and Lightspeed Ventures.