The App Store still has a fleeceware problem that affects millions of iOS users

nanoguy

Posts: 1,243   +24
Staff member
Why it matters: Apple says it reviews well over 100,000 apps and app updates every week, of which only 60 percent make it through thanks to a strict vetting process. However, scam apps still manage to thrive on the App Store and generate a significant amount of revenue for both their developers as well as the Cupertino giant which gets a commission on every sale.

Scam apps are nothing new, but Apple and Google have yet to develop a proper solution to prevent them from making it into their mobile app stores. The most recent estimate is that developers of fleeceware apps raked in $400 million from unsuspecting users in recent years.

Fleeceware apps do not fit the definition of malware as they don't take control of your device or steal any of your data. However, this is exactly what allows them to slip through the cracks in the Play Store and App Store review processes. It also doesn't help that some of these apps do include some useful functionality that helps them look legitimate.

Most fleeceware comes with a short free trial period, after which users are charged a recurring fee that can add up to a high amount over time. The reason this scheme works so well is that people usually either forget to cancel those subscriptions or simply assume that uninstalling the offending apps will automatically end the corresponding subscriptions.

Google's Play Store is known to have a less strict app vetting process, but fleeceware can make its way into Apple's App Store. The latter company is usually quick to tout the benefits of an app store governed by more stringent rules and has even added a feature for reporting scam apps. Still, fleeceware developers have been taking advantage of the free trial mechanism of the App Store and continue to do so today.

According to a report from VPNCheck, no less than 84 fraudulent iOS apps still thrive a year after being discovered by security firm Avast. Together, these apps make over $100 million in annual revenue if we go by SensorTower figures.

This means that over half of the most prominent fleeceware apps are still active and sometimes even get featured in the top paid apps list. Last month, 7.2 million people downloaded one or more of these, generating revenue of over $8 million in just a few weeks. And this doesn't take into account other apps like AmpMe and StringVPN that have been able to fly under the radar for years.

To put things in context, the App Store generates around $60 billion per year in sales. Apple makes a commission on every sale (between 15 and 30 percent), which has been the subject of hot debate and legal action in recent years. Fleeceware may only represent a small portion of the overall sales, but the Cupertino giant does get a cut of that, too.

It also doesn't help that fleeceware blends very well among normal apps, thanks in no small part to a flood of positive reviews that are generated when the offending apps first hit the App Store as freeware. Developers then add the subscription as a requirement for continued use beyond a limited free trial period (usually a few days). However, users who wish to cancel find it difficult to do so and usually need to freeze payments from their bank account to solve the issue.

When zooming out from the grim picture of fleeceware, we find the App Store is host to several gambling apps posing as kids' games, as well as apps that can scam users out of their cryptocurrency investments by posing as "official" apps for services that don't have one. Millions of teens looking for "alternatives" to big social media apps get drawn to apps like NGL, which use bots to generate engagement and convince users to part with money for seemingly broken "premium" features.

Some governments are working on regulations to enforce a so-called "code of practice" for better app store security, but progress on that front has been slow. The only solution at hand for consumers is to research any app that you're tempted to download. Furthermore, you should look for any free alternatives or paid apps that only require a one-time payment to access their full feature set.

Permalink to story.

 

BadThad

Posts: 1,141   +1,341
No surprise, people are DUMB and don't watch their finances close enough to question unknown charges. I've never been a fan of subscription services no matter what they are. I would gladly pay ONCE and be done for something I find useful.....especially games. The pay once, play forever model is vanishing. :(
 

hahahanoobs

Posts: 4,599   +2,563
Buy now pay later revenue might get Apple to eventually do something about fleeceware.
 
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waclark

Posts: 548   +343
No surprise, people are DUMB and don't watch their finances close enough to question unknown charges. I've never been a fan of subscription services no matter what they are. I would gladly pay ONCE and be done for something I find useful.....especially games. The pay once, play forever model is vanishing. :(
I don't know that it's vanishing, I think there are some games that just don't work on a pay-once model. If you expect updates in content or you expect online servers to always be available you probably need to pay on an on-going basis to get that.
 

terzaerian

Posts: 1,474   +2,149
But but but I thought not having the ability to load third party apps prevented this? Muh first party experience! Muh app store!!! Paging @bviktor !!!
 

terzaerian

Posts: 1,474   +2,149
I don't know that it's vanishing, I think there are some games that just don't work on a pay-once model. If you expect updates in content or you expect online servers to always be available you probably need to pay on an on-going basis to get that.
Bold of you to assume I want a game to be updated ad infinitum. The current culture of constantly churning out new updates because "new content" f*cking sucks for modding, because old mods are constantly being broke by changes introduced in new versions.

I want pay-once, release-once back as a full package.
 

waclark

Posts: 548   +343
Bold of you to assume I want a game to be updated ad infinitum. The current culture of constantly churning out new updates because "new content" f*cking sucks for modding, because old mods are constantly being broke by changes introduced in new versions.

I want pay-once, release-once back as a full package.
I wasn't assuming anything about you. Just noting that when it comes to gaming there are different styles/types of games and some of them are better suited to a subscription or pay to play model than others.

For me, the kind of games that I think would be pay-once, are generally not the kind of games I play. I like online games, MMO and FPS. I like interacting with other humans in games and those kinds of games usually require some sort of on-going infrastructure to operate, so I pay for them. You don't find too many one-time purchase games that have online servers and updated content that don't charge in some way, after the initial purchase.

I think there still are some pay-once kind of games out there. They seem mostly to be console type games (even if on PC). There are a few exceptions.
 

poltevo

Posts: 34   +18
Apple has massive margins on the App Store; they could easily fix this issue by putting more money into properly vetting apps. Its another example of Apple behaving badly and has class action lawsuit written all over it.