Around the same time, Apple this week touted massive revenue growth on the App Store, well-known App Store developer and reviewer Kosta Eleftheriou brought to light what appeared to be another App Store con artist hiding in plain sight. On Twitter, Eleftheriou documented the earnings of a music syncing app called AmpMe, which claims to increase the volume of your music by syncing it across all devices, including friends’ phones, bluetooth speakers, and home speakers. ‘computer. AmpMe, he found, was charging an incredible $ 10 per week for this basic service, which he was promoting on the App Store through fake reviews.
The AmpMe iOS app doesn’t require a subscription to use some of its features, but it does if you want to sync your music with other devices – the main reason people probably downloaded the app in the first place.
Eleftheriou Noted this offer was priced at what he called “an absurd $ 10 / week (~ $ 520 / year)”. The subscription also renews automatically, as do most in-app subscriptions. And while Apple makes it easier to sign up and maintain the subscription, subscription cancellations can only be made from the Subscriptions section of your Account page, which you can access from the App Store or iPhone Settings app. You cannot cancel in the app itself.
AmpMe hadn’t tried to cheat users on its price, at least. The sign-up page made it clear that its free trial was only offered for three days and would then be followed by a subscription of $ 9.99 per week.
But where the app broke App Store rules is the way it presented itself to potential customers.
AmpMe had bought a ton of fake reviews as evidenced by its large list of five-star ratings associated with absurd names. These names – like Nicte Videlerqhjgd or Elcie Zapaterbpmtl, for example – sounded like someone who has just mashed buttons on a keyboard. But the reviewers were sure they left positive feedback, like “It’s too good !” Where “super useful” Where “No need for other music apps! “
(Interesting way, those same reviews left rave five star reviews on other applications too, and all on the same day! It’s suspicious!)
The fake reviews gave the app an overall 4.3 star rating on the App Store, making it a legitimate and useful music sync tool. Meanwhile, the real reviews – where legitimate App Store customers complained about outrageous prices, basic features, or obvious fake reviews – have been drowned out by spam.
Apple had not taken any action on this deceptively marketed app for years. And to make matters worse, he had even promoted it several times through the editorial collections of the App Store, Eleftheriou pointed out.
The conclusion he draws from this is that not only is Apple lax in tracking down App Store scammers, but it may in fact be deterred from doing so due to the earning potential of scam apps. (The only other possible conclusion here is that Apple is just plain incompetent when it comes to protecting the App Store for consumers… which isn’t exactly good looking either.)
Citing data from Appfigures, Eleftheriou notes that AmpMe generated $ 13 million in lifetime revenue from the App Store after Apple was phased out.
Another company puts the number even higher. Apptopia told TechCrunch that the app has earned $ 16 million since it started monetizing through in-app purchases in October 2018; $ 15.5 million on the App Store and $ 500,000 on Google Play. The majority (or 75%) of in-app purchase revenue comes from U.S. consumers. To date, AmpMe has recorded 33.5 million lifetime installations, 38% of which are in the United States.
In a response provided to TechCrunch, AmpMe disputed some of the claims made.
The company said its users don’t pay $ 520 per year, which would be a $ 10 per week subscription if users remained subscribed. Instead, AmpMe said that among its paid users, its average annual subscription revenue is around $ 75. This would indicate that users take advantage of the free trial and then cancel the subscription after a certain period of time. AmpMe also said that internally it reinforces their belief that their pricing is transparent and their opt-out procedures are easy.
The company hasn’t had a good answer, however, as to why its App Store list is filled with fake reviews, choosing instead to blame an anonymous third party.
“Over the years, like most startups, we have hired outside consultants to help us with marketing and app store optimization. More monitoring is needed and that is what we are currently working on, ”said a statement sent by an anonymous representative from AmpMe. (They had signed the “The AmpMe Team” email.)
Additionally, the company said it is responding to these recent comments by releasing a new version of the app at a lower price.
“We always adhere to Apple’s subscription guidelines and continually work to ensure their high standards are met,” the email read. “We also respect and value feedback from the community. Therefore, a new version of the app with a lower price has already been submitted to the App Store for review.
This version has since gone live and sees the weekly subscription reduced to $ 4.99 from $ 9.99.
Today Eleftheriou tells us that it looks like a manual cleanup of bogus reviews is underway.
At 11 a.m. on Monday, he documented that the app had 54,080 reviews. At 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, after AmpMe saw quite a bit of bad press, the app’s review count had dropped to 53,028. On Wednesday at 7 a.m., the review count dropped again to 50,693 But the overall rating of the app was not significantly affected. This may be because the deleted reviews are those submitted by fake App Store users instead of those for which the app received a five-star rating, but no review text or reviewer name. ‘is visible. This means that the cleaning process will make it less obvious that the app has purchased fake reviews.
Perhaps the CEO of AmpMe is also interesting: Canadian tech entrepreneur Martin-Luc Archambault. Its Wajam software turned adware had previously been investigated by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and violated Canadian Internet privacy laws by collecting data. data about users without their consent. It also used several methods to evade detection by antivirus software, according to reports at the time. When the OPC announced its findings, Archambault claimed that the data of the Canadian users in question had been destroyed and that Wajam had sold its assets to a Chinese company. During its lifetime, the adware has been installed millions of times, according to the OPC report.
In other words, it doesn’t sound like someone objecting to buying fake reviews!
AmpMe did not respond to further follow-up questions beyond its initial statement, and Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
To date, AmpMe had raised $ 10 million in VC funding, per Crunchbase data.