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Fake iPhone Apps Are Another Sign of Apple’s Slipping Standards

Once celebrated for its heavy vetting, the App Store is now home to fraudulent apps.
November 7, 2016

This holiday season, be careful which shopping app you install on your iPhone. A host of fake retail apps have appeared in Apple’s App Store recently, an indicator of Apple’s inability to closely monitor software in the way it once did.

Both the New York Times and the New York Post have reported that hundreds of fake shopping apps have been published in the App Store recently. While many of them simply serve up irritating ads to make a quick buck, others purport to be genuine retail apps, luring users into providing credit card details. Brands ranging from Foot Locker to Christian Dior have been used as the fronts for such rackets in recent weeks.

Apple once made much of its approval process for apps, using it as a means of differentiating itself from Android, which used to allow developers to immediately upload software to its Play Store. (Google began vetting apps more closely in 2015.) Apple still claims to “review all apps submitted to the App Store in an effort to determine whether they are reliable, perform as expected, and are free of offensive material.” But clearly some are slipping through the net.

A statement provided to the New York Times by Apple hints that its vetting process may not be quite as rigorous as it once was:

“We strive to offer customers the best experience possible, and we take their security very seriously. We’ve set up ways for customers and developers to flag fraudulent or suspicious apps, which we promptly investigate to ensure the App Store is safe and secure. We’ve removed these offending apps and will continue to be vigilant about looking for apps that might put our users at risk.”

Indeed, the newspaper claims that Apple “does not routinely examine” every app before it’s added to the store. In other cases, the software may be updated after approval to include nefarious content. The main problem is volume: there are a mind-boggling two million apps available in the app store, so vetting new arrivals and updates in detail is incredibly difficult.

This is perhaps what happens when a company that once sought to make perfect devices for a small audience becomes one of the world’s largest hardware suppliers with a software marketplace to match: quality slips.

Apple also appears to be losing its ability to update product lines often enough to keep consumers interested in the latest models. The latest iPhone launch was wildly underwhelming, for instance, and its computer refreshes come too infrequently for the demanding, need-it-now millennial crowd. The company’s most recent product announcement is also an excellent case in point, revealing a company with time to make small tweaks to existing products, but lacking the vision to break with convention.

Perhaps more pressing for Apple right now is the need to clean up the illicit apps, which so far it has done based on reports from the two news outlets.

(Read more: New York Times, New York Post, “Bad Apple,” “Microsoft Is Looking Like the New Apple,” “Why Apple Can’t Match the iPhone’s Success”)

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