Across the similar time Apple was touting its sizable App Retailer income progress this week, developer and famous App Retailer critic Kosta Eleftheriou dropped at mild what seemed to be one more App Retailer scammer hiding in plain sight. On Twitter, Eleftheriou documented the earnings for a music syncing app referred to as AmpMe, which claims to spice up your music’s quantity by syncing it throughout units, together with mates’ telephones, Bluetooth audio system and laptop audio system. AmpMe, he discovered, had been charging an unbelievable $10 per week for this fundamental service, which it had been selling on the App Retailer by the use of pretend critiques.
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The AmpMe iOS app doesn’t require a subscription to make use of a few of its options, however does if you wish to synchronize your music to different units — the principle motive customers doubtless downloaded the app within the first place.
Eleftheriou famous this providing was priced at what he referred to as “an absurd $10/week (~$520/yr).” The subscription additionally auto-renews, as most in-app subscriptions do. And whereas Apple makes it simple to enroll and keep subscribed, subscription cancelations can solely be carried out out of your Account web page’s Subscriptions part, which you will get to from the App Retailer or the iPhone’s Settings app. You’ll be able to’t cancel contained in the app itself.
AmpMe hadn’t been attempting to trick customers about its pricing, a minimum of. The sign-up web page clearly acknowledged its free trial was provided for simply three days and would then be adopted by a $9.99 per week subscription.
However the place the app ran afoul of the App Retailer’s guidelines was the way it marketed itself to potential prospects.
AmpMe had bought a ton of pretend critiques, as evidenced by its massive slate of five-star rankings related to nonsensical names. These names — like Nicte Videlerqhjgd or Elcie Zapaterbpmtl, for instance — seemed like somebody simply mashed buttons on a keyboard. However the reviewers had been positive to have left constructive suggestions, like “It’s sooo good!” or “tremendous helpful” or “Don’t want every other music apps!”
(Apparently, these similar reviewers left glowing five-star critiques on different apps, too, and all on the identical day! That’s suspicious!)
Discover how this very same group of reviewers has additionally left glowing 5-star critiques in a special, unrelated app – and all on the identical day.
The issue is widespread. pic.twitter.com/y9b9c1C5iE
— Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) January 12, 2022
The pretend critiques gave the app an total score of 4.3 stars on the App Retailer, making it seem to be a authentic and helpful music syncing instrument. In the meantime, the actual critiques — the place authentic App Retailer prospects complained concerning the outrageous pricing, fundamental performance or the plain pretend critiques — had been drowned out by the spam.
Apple had not taken motion on this deceptively marketed app for years. And to make issues worse, it had even promoted it a number of instances by way of App Retailer editorial collections, Eleftheriou identified.
The conclusion he attracts from that is that not solely is Apple lax on looking down App Retailer scammers, it might truly be disincentivized to take action due to rip-off apps’ earnings potential. (The one different attainable conclusion right here is that Apple is simply inept with regards to preserving the App Retailer secure for customers… which isn’t actually look both.)
Citing knowledge from Appfigures, Eleftheriou notes AmpMe has pulled in $13 million in lifetime income on the App Retailer, after Apple’s minimize.
One other agency places the determine even increased. Apptopia instructed TechCrunch the app has earned $16 million because it started monetizing by way of in-app purchases in October 2018; $15.5 million of that was by way of the App Retailer and one other $500,000 got here by way of Google Play. The bulk (or 75%) of the in-app buy income got here from customers within the U.S. To this point, AmpMe has seen 33.5 million lifetime installs, 38% of that are from the U.S.
In a response offered to TechCrunch, AmpMe disputed a few of the claims being made.
The corporate mentioned its customers aren’t paying $520 per yr — what a $10 per week subscription would add as much as if customers stayed subscribed. As an alternative, AmpMe mentioned throughout its paying customers, its common yearly subscription income is round $75. This could point out customers are profiting from the free trial then canceling the subscription after a while. AmpMe additionally mentioned that, internally, this bolstered its perception that its pricing is clear and its opt-out procedures are simple.
The corporate didn’t, nevertheless, have an incredible reply as to why its App Retailer Itemizing is crammed with pretend critiques, opting to toss blame on an nameless third occasion as an alternative.
“By the years, like most startups, we’ve employed outdoors consultants to assist us with advertising and app retailer optimization. Extra oversight is required and that’s what we’re at the moment engaged on,” an announcement despatched by an unnamed AmpMe consultant mentioned. (That they had signed the e-mail “The AmpMe Staff.”)
As well as, the corporate mentioned it was responding to this latest suggestions by releasing a brand new model of the app with a cheaper price level.
“We all the time adhere to Apple’s subscription pointers and are regularly working to make sure their excessive requirements are met,” the e-mail learn. “We additionally respect and worth the neighborhood’s suggestions. Due to this fact, a brand new model of the app with a cheaper price has already been submitted to the App Retailer for assessment.”
That model has since gone dwell and sees the weekly subscription decreased to $4.99 from $9.99.
In the present day, Eleftheriou tells us it seems to be like a guide cleanup of the pretend critiques is now underway.
On Monday at 11 AM, he documented the app had 54,080 critiques. By Tuesday at 9 PM, after AmpMe noticed a good bit of unhealthy press, the app’s assessment rely had dropped to 53,028. By 7 AM on Wednesday, the assessment rely dropped once more to 50,693. However the app’s total score hasn’t been meaningfully impacted. This could possibly be as a result of the critiques being eliminated are these submitted by the pretend App Retailer customers as an alternative of those the place the app was given a five-star score however no assessment textual content or reviewer title is seen. Which means the cleanup course of will make it much less apparent the app had bought pretend critiques.
Additionally of curiosity, maybe, is AmpMe’s CEO: the Canadian know-how entrepreneur Martin-Luc Archambault. His Wajam software-turned-adware was beforehand investigated by the Workplace of the Privateness Commissioner of Canada (OPC), and discovered to have violated Canadian web privateness legal guidelines by gathering consumer knowledge with out consent. It additionally used a number of strategies to evade detection by antivirus software program, stories claimed on the time. When the OPC introduced its findings, Archambault claimed the Canadian consumer knowledge in query had been destroyed and Wajam had offered its belongings to a Chinese language firm. Over its lifetime, the adware had been put in hundreds of thousands of instances, the OPC’s report mentioned.
In different phrases, this doesn’t sound like somebody who could be opposed to purchasing some pretend critiques!
AmpMe hasn’t responded to additional follow-up questions past its unique assertion, and Apple has not responded to a request for remark.
To this point, AmpMe had raised $10 million in VC funding, per Crunchbase knowledge.