Over the last several weeks, developer Kosta Eleftheriou has been highlighting many apparent scam applications on the App Store. The formula for each scam application is virtually identical, and it centers on fake reviews and ratings paired with a deceptive weekly subscription.
Update February 11, 2021: Apple has given the following statement to The Verge regarding scam apps on the App Store.
We take feedback regarding fraudulent activity seriously, and investigate and take action on each report. The App Store is designed to be a safe and trusted place for users to get apps, and a great opportunity for developers to be successful.We do not tolerate fraudulent activity on the App Store, and have stringent rules against apps and developers who attempt to cheat the system. In 2020 alone, we terminated over half a million developer accounts for fraud, and removed over 60 million user reviews that were considered spam. As part of our ongoing efforts to maintain the integrity of our platform, our Discovery Fraud team actively works to remove these kinds of violations, and is constantly improving their process along the way.
Eleftheriou is the developer behind FlickType, a popular Apple Watch keyboard application that brings gesture typing to the wearable device. He was also one of the creators of the Flesky keyboard app, acquired by Pinterest, and Blind Type, acquired by Google.
The thread began two weeks ago, when Eleftheriou began highlighting applications that were essentially non-functional ripoffs of FlickType. One of the most blatant ones was KeyWatch:
Just a few months ago, I was way ahead of my competition. By the time they figured out just how hard autocorrect algorithms were, I was already rolling out the swipe version of my keyboard, quickly approaching iPhone typing speeds. So how did they beat me?
First, they made an app that appeared to fulfill the promise of a watch keyboard – but was practically unusable. Then, they started heavily advertising on FB & Instagram, using my own promo video, of my own app, with my actual name on it.
When users downloaded the app, the first screen was a blank interface with an “Unlock now” button. Tap the “Unlock now” button, and you’d be prompted with Apple’s buy screen to confirm an $8/week subscription for an app that was nonfunctional.
What about App Store reviews and ratings? The KeyWatch developers simply purchased fake ratings and reviews, which flooded the App Store listings and gave users the impression the app was a legitimate Apple Watch keyboard. According to Appfigures data, KeyWatch was generating $2 million a year through its App Store scam.
Fake ratings, and fake reviews. These quickly push the scams to the top of search results, leaving honest & hard-working developers in the dust. An old problem that’s not easy to solve, but one that’s at the core of why App Store app discovery is so problematic.
After Eleftheriou’s Twitter thread gained traction, Apple removed KeyWatch and a handful of other similar scam Apple Watch keyboard apps from the App Store. That being said, the company hasn’t taken as swift of action against similar applications from the same “developer.”