With so much focus on the App Store at the moment, Apple’s leading argument is that its App Store review policies offer security and safety for users. However, unscrupulous apps continue to slip through the net and rake in millions from Apple customers before being caught.
One of the biggest drivers of these scams is the use of fake reviews to prop up apps that otherwise wouldn’t get a second look. A common pattern for such an App Store scam is to make a very simple app targeting popular search keywords, attach aggressive subscription pricing to it, and make it rise high in search results by faking hundreds of 5-star App Store reviews …
The latest example of this comes once again via Kosta Eleftheriou. Today, he drew attention to an app called My Pulse-Heart Rate Monitor.
The app does “work.” This is not a case where App Review approved something it shouldn’t have. The app ostensibly reads your heart rate by placing your finger on the camera lens. It isn’t the first app to do this by any means. Of course, the heart rate readouts are way more inaccurate than the dedicated heart rate sensor on the Apple Watch, but the app will give you a reading that is vaguely close to your actual heart rate.
However, it does forcefully push paywall screens on users. Upon app launch, you are invited to start a subscription plan. You can dismiss the upgrade screen and take one heart rate reading before being prompted to upgrade again. The available subscription tiers are not cheap: priced at $6.99 per week, $16.99 per month, or $69.99 per year.
Although the upgrade options and pricing are transparently presented, the developers are clearly hoping that users press onward and start a subscription without really paying attention to what they are doing. The three-day free trial on the weekly subscription helps to get people to subscribe without considering the actual consequences of what they are doing.
The essence of the scam is quickly acquiring a lot of downloads through manipulation of reviews and App Store search, and then tricking enough of the people who download it into signing up to a recurring subscription plan.
Let’s look at the fake reviews in this case. On the US App Store, the app has over 1,000 reviews with an average 4.1 rating. Eleftheriou points out that the vast majority of these reviews are illegitimate.