Indie Developer Dogged By Scammy Clone Apps Again Highlights the Holes in Apple's App Store Review Process
Apps that copy concepts and features from other apps are nothing new in the App Store, but scammy like-for-like clones of genuine apps remain a perennial problem that Apple still hasn't resolved, as indie developer Kevin Archer recently discovered.
Archer is responsible for 2Stable's Authenticator App, a feature-rich app that stores and generates secure two-factor authentication tokens for online accounts. Last week, Archer found another app in the App Store going by the same name that looks suspiciously similar: "Authenticator - App" by Russian company Byte Service.
Archer claims that the copycat app has not only lifted artwork and text from his app word-for-word, but it has also left in references to genuine features of his app that the clone app doesn't actually include, such as Apple Watch support.
In addition, counter to Apple's developer guidelines, the cloned app asks users for an App Store review during the onboarding stage. It also requires a $3.99 weekly subscription, which would amount to over $200 annually if a user forgot to cancel.
Archer later found another instance of the app in the App Store, just with a different icon. Archer says the app was submitted via a different developer account, but it also contains the same cloned elements originating from his own genuine app.
Seems like they have the same app submitted on another developer account, they only changed the color. It's green now. https://t.co/2MQAo62vVm pic.twitter.com/J7obMRFE9w — Kevin Archer (@IM_Kevin_Archer) February 19, 2022
Reacting to his findings on Twitter, Archer wrote: "I really don't understand how these apps pass the App Store review with features that don't work, with a copied design, forcing users to review their app before even seeing it, and of course with a weekly subscription."
Archer went on to say that indie developers regularly get their apps "rejected for silly things," while others "spam [the] App Store with imitations and weekly subscriptions."
The problem of scam iOS apps has dogged Apple's App Store for some years now. Back in 2012, Apple's Phil Schiller was absolutely furious when a fake app made it to the top of the App Store rankings, according to documents shared in the Epic v. Apple trial.
Recently there have been concerted efforts by some developers to highlight that the problem remains as big as ever in at least some app categories. Just last year, Apple was hit with a lawsuit from developer Kosta Eleftheriou over the problem of scam and copycat apps on the App Store. Apple is facing a similar lawsuit with the makers behind the hit-game PUBG Mobile.
In the last few months, the issue of App Store scam apps has become a lightning rod for Apple, with some estimates suggesting scam apps on the platform have made millions in revenue. Most recently, the mainstream game Wordle became the latest victim of the App Store's problem. Wordle clones sprang up across the App Store as the game spread in popularity, and some copycat apps even offered in-app subscriptions, despite the fact that the original game is entirely free to play.
Apple recently restored the "Report a Problem" option on the App Store for developers to flag issues and combat scams. When selected, the option directs users to a website with a drop-down menu to report App Store violations, including a specific option to "Report a scam or fraud." However, developers generally remain frustrated that there's no way to get in touch directly with the App Store team to inform them of scammy apps that deceptively feed off their own inventions for financial gain. To improve the situation, Archer suggests Apple could make a special "contact us" form only for developers so they can can report such apps.
Update 2/22: Since this article was published, Apple has removed the copycat apps from the App Store.