TechSpot means tech analysis and advice you can trust. Read our ethics statement.
The big picture: The App Store has become home to no less than 1.9 million apps, generating $64 billion in revenue for Apple and app developers. And while Apple will tell you it's a place you can trust, one developer lawsuit alleges that couldn't be farther from the truth.
Last month, Kosta Eleftheriou, the mobile app developer behind the popular Apple Watch keyboard app FlickType for the visually impaired wrote a scathing Twitter thread on the current state of the App Store. In it, Eleftheriou criticized Apple for not properly enforcing App Store rules, which has allowed several scam and clone apps to coexist with perfectly legitimate apps in an environment that's supposed to prevent that from happening.
Furthermore, some of these apps reach high enough annual revenues to make it to the top of the App Store, which at first glance makes it seem as though Apple is tolerating them. However, despite their fraudulent nature, most of these apps have glowing reviews and five-star ratings. Some don't even work as advertised despite promising the same functionality as legitimate apps like FlickType, while effectively chipping away revenue from legitimate developers.
Apple did remove the apps that were mentioned in Eleftheriou's story, including 77 scam apps made by a developer that has been operating since 2019. The company also released a public statement reiterating its commitment to keeping the App Store clean, as well as claiming it had terminated over half a million developer accounts and removed over 60 million spam user reviews.
Eleftheriou isn't entirely happy with the response though, and understandably so. While Apple did remove some fraudulent apps from its marketplace, it left many more untouched. As a result, Eleftheriou decided to file a complaint against the Cupertino giant in a California state court. He alleges Apple is using its monopoly power over iOS apps to "make billions of dollars in profits at the expense of small application developers and consumers."
The developer offers a detailed view of what he believes to be wrongful behavior from the iPhone maker, which includes fraud, false advertising, and breach of developer agreement. Notably, he claims Apple had tried to acquire FlickType in 2019, but quickly turned quiet after Eleftheriou updated the app to cater to a more general audience.
"The apps you love. From the only place you can get them." pic.twitter.com/Ev8resllmd--- Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) February 22, 2021
Apple refused to allow FlickType on the Watch App Store explaining that keyboard apps were not allowed, despite allowing others like Shift Keyboard. As a stop gap solution, Eleftheriou allowed third party apps like Nano for Reddit, WatchChat for WhatsApp, Lens for Instagram, and Chirp for Twitter to use FlickType's tech as a feature.
One year later, FlickType was finally allowed back into the App Store and generated over $130,000 in revenue in just one month, climbing to the top of the Paid Apps section in the US. The success was short-lived, as fraudsters immediately flooded the marketplace with apps that appeared to have the same functionality, but in reality did not. According to the complaint, this reduced FlickType's revenue to $20,000 per month, while copycat apps have continued to thrive.
The lawsuit adds to a growing list of headaches for Apple, which is also embroiled in a legal fight with Epic Games for alleged monopolistic behavior, not to mention a similar one with US lawmakers that intend to make significant changes to how Big Tech operates. To Apple's credit, the company did trim its App Store commission fee to 15 percent for small app developers, but that won't amount to much if fraudulent apps can easily swoop in and scam potential customers out of their hard-earned money.