Apple’s iTunes App Store is a billion dollar business, and developers stand to make millions upon millions if they’re able to launch an immensely popular app. And because of that, the appeal in churning out scamware apps that attempt to confuse consumers into purchasing hastily assembled apps that shamelessly rip off already popular apps is high.
While stories of scamware apps typically center on the Android Marketplace on account of Google’s lax, and arguably near non-existent, supervision policies, Apple is no stranger to the unwelcome phenomenon itself.
Highlighting the problem, The Guardian had an interesting article a few days ago detailing just how blatant some of these app rip-offs are, all the way right down to the name itself. One douchebag developer profiled in the piece is Anton Sinelnkov
He’s also the man behind an array of other familiar-sounding iOS games, including Angry Ninja Birds, Temple Jump, Numbers With Friends, Tiny Birds and Zombie Air Highway. Not to mention non-game apps with alluring titles like Lovely Girls, Sexual Offenders HD, The Horse Woman (“Warning: Adults 21_ ONLY!”) and Victorian Sexy.
It’s the games that are causing a stir among mobile developers though, especially those whose games Sinelnikov’s titles and icons have been clearly inspired by.
The dynamic is problematic on two fronts.
First, it cheats the original developer out of money. Frustratingly, hard working and honest developers will sometimes see blatant rip-off versions of their app climb up the charts, making ill-deserved money in the process.
Second, it dilutes the entire brand. If I’m looking to by Angry Birds and instead download Upset Birds, mistaking one for the other, my impression of the Angry Birds franchise will be unfairly colored by what is likely to be a cheap knock off app with a substandard user experience.
In light of all this, Apple thankfully took some steps in the right direction last week when it booted all of Sinelnikov’s apps off of the app store. I guess when a scamware app like Temple Jump (a blatant rip off of Temple Run) hits the top of the paid app chart it’s prudent to act quickly and decisevely to prevent similar apps from gaining traction in the app store.
Josh Constine of TechCrunch lays out an interesting suggestion that would help Apple combat this type of scamware:
Right now there’s only “This application has a bug”, “This application is offensive”, “My concern is not listed here”, and an open comment field. “This app is a fake version of another app” or something similar should be added. Android, Facebook, and other platform owners should ensure they have similar ways to specifically report fakes…
For example, a developer whose app receiving a certain threshold of “fake” reports, with names and logos that reach some threshold of similarity should be given a warning and certain number of days to clear up infractions before being removed from the store. Facebook launched a new anti-spam enforcement system in July after apologizing for sudden app takedowns by its automated system.
By giving users an easier way to report fakes and having an enforcement protocol they can point to, platform owners could protect users and honest developers, and make pirates walk the plank.