Mac App Store developers abusing in-app purchases to scam users

Mac App Store developers abusing in-app purchases to scam users

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A new thread of insight reveals how some developers on the Mac App Store are using ‘bait-and-switch’ in-app purchases to dupe users.

As noted by Jeff Johnson, two apps from Fokusek Enterprise, Docs Pro for Google Drive and GCalendar for Google Calendar, are number 38 and 41 in the Mac App Store free charts respectively, but also sit 48 and 50 in the top-grossing Mac App Store apps. The reason?:

This developer has 9 apps in the Mac App Store, all of which seem to have the same “business model”: free to download, with In-App Purchase, but the first time you open the app, it demands an upfront one-time purchase, otherwise it doesn’t work at all.

No trial, no subscription.

Johnson notes that the apps are littered with terrible 1-star reviews and comments from users warning others not to download the apps. However, the developer’s top three grossing apps on the App Store all have 4 out of 5 ratings. Because they’re free they can be rated by anyone, possibly suggesting the ratings of the app have somehow been manipulated.

Johnson notes another app called ‘Audio Editor’ that charges users $125 for a yearly subscription. It also has a 12-month subscription available for $25, it is unclear what the difference is. This app too is littered with 1-star reviews, revealing a business model even more sinister than the first:

Users say the app forces users to pay by locking a user’s computer, with some unable to close ads or the program itself until they had paid for the service, almost akin to ransomware. The developer, Music Paradise LLC, has another developer account registered to the same Rusian address called ‘Groove Vibes’, the latter’s app, My Metronome – Tempo Keeper, seems to be a similar ransomware scheme, one review notes:

This app is so fantastic that you won’t want to even close the app without paying them money… oh wait, its actually the app that won’t let you close it with out paying these con-artists first. The is a piece of crap scam.

If you need to close the app, just go in and delete it and then you should be free from this garbage.

Another stated:

$20/month and you can’t even close the app once it opens until you pay them. I had to force quit. When I pulled up activity monitor, this simple app was using 15% of my CPU. How is this still allowed on the app store??

The quality of Apple’s App Store on both the Mac and its best iPhones remains a hot point of contention in the conversation around sideloading. Apple argues that its App Store business model, especially on iOS, is vital in order to protect users from bad actors, privacy concerns, and more, yet the company has come under increasing scrutiny because of apps on its marketplaces that persist despite clearly having been created for the sole purpose of scamming users.

CEO Tim Cook warned this week that sideloading on devices like the iPhone 13 would open up users to privacy concerns and said the company was “deeply concerned” about emerging antitrust legislation.

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