How Apple Could Fight The Bots, Scams And Other App Store Junk
No platform is perfect. Not even Apple?s. Over the last few weeks, there has been a flood of news about malfeasance in the app store from download bots to credit card scams to address-book sharing. I broke a few stories about app-related credit card fraud originating from Taobao, the eBay of China, and automated bots that download apps thousands of times to drive them up the charts. Then The New York Times and BusinessWeek came in with their own takes this week.
This puts the heat on Apple to further regulate the store, which is long overdue. Though to be fair, I still think that the iOS platform is more egalitarian than Facebook, which lends itself to a winner-take-all dynamic. iOS is also more lucrative per user than Android or Facebook, according to data from analytics provider Flurry and top-tier developers like EA Popcap.
Anyway, here are a few solutions:
1) Change the app store ranking algorithm so it doesn?t rely so much on raw download rates. A ranking algorithm that simple is just begging to be gamed. Developers have been doing it for years in ways that range from legitimate to totally unscrupulous. When the ecosystem was less mature, developers used to do burst advertising campaigns, where they would pay for a load of display ads right at launch. That became pretty expensive very quickly. Then in late 2010, developers started using offer walls, which would give players of other games rewards like virtual currency if they downloaded apps.
Then Apple cracked down on this practice last April. Ironically, an even less savory practice benefited as developers stepped up spending on marketing agencies that used bots to download their apps thousands of times. While none of the top tier developers admitted to intentionally doing this, it was a widely-known practice. Marketing companies like Charles River Ventures-backed Fiksu ran a test with one of these services, and saw thousands of downloads. But mysteriously, none of these users ever actually opened the app, so they company knew something was awry.