For a Small Fee

There’s been increasing talk about how unscrupulous developers have gamed the App Store in recent weeks. Typically, shady devs will submit apps to the store that have similar names and app icons to top ten titles and in the confusion (and perhaps the additional hype from all the attention) users download these “scam” apps and push them ever higher. For honest developers who play by the rules, it’s a serious problem, and one that Apple needs to do a better job addressing.

There’s another way to get your app into the App Store’s Top Ten list however. With enough money, and a faulty ethical compass, you too can be sitting pretty atop the mountain of App Store competition. This morning the Iconfactory’s webmaster account received the following email from an address in China. The person (or persons) purported the ability to get your app to the top, fast. We were just one address of perhaps 100 or more in the “To” field including lockerz.com, skout.com, tumblr.com, okcupid and many more. Why they didn’t bcc the list is beyond me, but at any rate for a mere $10,000 USD, using thousands of “legally” registered iTunes accounts, they will download your app and help boost it into the top ten. How long it stays there just depends on how much you’re willing to pay.

We have large quantity of USA ,UK,CA itunes accounts, registered legally, we can promote your free app in the US, UK, CA store.Don’t waste time in promoting,leave it to us! We are professional team for you and we are the most powerful team for app promotion in China.

10,000 downloads in one store, need 1000USD

If you want the ranking, here is the price list for weekday only,please check:
—————iPhone app———————
US top10 24 hours 10000USD
US top10 48 hours is 15000USD
US top10 3 days is 20000USD
Each additional day the need to increase $ 5,000, up to 5 days,only for weekday

UK top10 24hours 3000USD
UK top10 48hours 5500USD
UK top10 3days is 8000USD
Each additional day the need to increase $ 2,500, up to 5 days,only for weekday

CA top10 24hours 2500USD
CA top10 48hours 4500USD
CA top10 3days 6500USD

————–ipad app only for separate app———————
US top10 24 hours 4000USD
US top10 48 hours is 6000USD
US top10 3 days is 8000USD
Each additional day the need to increase $ 2,000, up to 5 days,only for weekday

UK top10 24hours 1200USD
UK top10 48hours 2200USD
UK top10 3days is 3200USD
Each additional day the need to increase $ 1,000, up to 5 days,only for weekday

CA top10 24hours 1000USD
CA top10 48hours 1800USD
CA top10 3days 2600USD

Weekend day, subject to 20%

The problem of scam apps seems like a relatively easy one to solve compared to this sort of App Store gaming. Apple should simply do a better job identifying and rejecting offending scam apps at the review level. But with enough legitimate iTunes accounts there’s no real way for Apple to identify “fake” downloads from real downloads and keep bogus apps from rising to the top. Perhaps if it happens often enough Apple can develop algorithms to help identify offending accounts and close them, but I’m skeptical.

It seems clear that a re-work of the entire top ten system is in order, and not just because of the recent rash of scamming. Some apps like Angry Birds can stay atop the Top Ten list for months on end making it harder for other awesome, smaller apps to see the light of day. Perhaps Apple’s recent purchase of Chomp will help solve the problem of discoverability, but until then unfortunately there will always be shady individuals willing to prey on people’s greed and desire to succeed.

UPDATE: Matt Ryan over on LockerGnome reports a possible explanation for how these app “promoters” can secure thousands of iTunes accounts to artificially inflate apps – they steal them. Both Ryan’s PayPal and iTunes accounts were hijacked and then used to download copies of an app called iMobster. It should come as no surprise that when the promoter says he uses thousands of “legally registered” iTunes accounts, he means it except they’re not his. So not only do devs fork over tens of thousands of dollars, they’re most likely doing so to criminals who hijack legitimate iTunes accounts and milk them dry until they are caught and shut off. Alarming to say the least.

Comments

  1. stevex says:

    Where it’s going to get dangerous is when the botnet guys start hijacking real user machines and using real accounts to game the system, because if Apple starts shutting those down, that’s hurting real people.

  2. Dan Palmer says:

    There is quite a problem with the ‘hacking’ of iTunes accounts in certain areas of the world. This has certainly been quite common in China in the past and to my knowledge, still goes on.

    Once a group has an account with a valid credit card on it, they can’t directly get money from it.

    Before, they have sold cracked accounts for around $20 each that buyers may be able to gift themselves expensive apps with, until the user realises, or the credit card gets declined.

    This to me just seems like another way to get money from those accounts. If they have automated the process of buying apps (or have many low paid workers), they can buy from many hacked accounts, not caring about how much gets spent, and get an app into the charts.

    Detecting this could be quite difficult for Apple as there could be such a wide variety of accounts being used for it.

  3. Mike says:

    This sort of thing can and should be turned over to Apple’s Legal department. I hope they already are placing sting operations to begin to track this so that they can either flag legitimate accounts that have been compromised for attention and a password change or at least to map and periodically freeze out these organized efforts if they are indeed fraudulently signed up or fraudulently accessed to manipulate accounts in a certain country’s rating system.

  4. Ged says:

    Mike, I forwarded the entire email onto Apple this morning. Hopefully it will help stem this kind of thing. Keeping fingers crossed.

  5. Dirk de Kok says:

    yeah,

    as the importance of being in a top 25 is so enormous for app developers, and the main criterium for getting there is downloads, crooks will continue to play the system. I hope Apple’s acquisition of Chomp makes this reliance on top 25′s less, meanwhile they should to more about shady practices. I wrote a blog post about why the current iTunes store is not good and what Apple should do: http://blog.mobtest.com/2012/02/itunes-app-store-sucks-and-finally-apple-acknowledges-it/

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  1. [...] Do you want your app to rocket to the Top 10 list in the App Store? For just a “small” fee, apparently you can. [...]