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This iOS app forces you to leave a positive review before you can use it

Published May 26th, 2021 3:34PM EDT
app store scam
Image: Arik/Adobe

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We’ve all experienced bad app design in the form of obnoxious review requests. It’s super annoying to use an app once or twice and then, the next time you tap the icon, you see a big box begging you to leave a review. Sure, it might get your attention, but usually not in a good way. If the app was incredible you might say something nice, but if you didn’t absolutely love everything about it, odds are the review prompt would just sour you even more.

One app maker decided to take make things even more annoying by holding your phone hostage until you leave a good review. You might assume, based on that description, that the app is on Android since, as Apple users love to remind everyone, Apple has far stricter guidelines for app approval than Google does. Well, Apple fans, this one’s for you, because it’s an iOS app and it even uses the built-in iOS review prompt to do its dastardly deed.

As The Verge reports, noted app developer and scam buster Kosta Eleftheriou was the first to draw attention to the offending app. It’s called UPNP Xtreme (ugh) and it’s designed to help you stream video from servers like Plex and others. Or at least that’s what it says it does. A good chunk of people who downloaded it never actually used the app because instead of offering its services upon tapping the app icon, users are met with a box asking for a review.

Now, this practice in and of itself, while annoying, isn’t a big deal. The issue here is that the app found a way to prevent users from opting out of the review. The button labeled “Not Now,” which normally lets you bypass the review request, can’t be pressed. Likewise, the 1-star and 2-star rating opens don’t respond to touch. Instead, a minimum rating of 3 out of 5 stars is required for you to proceed. Once you’ve selected a rating, the “Cancel” button also refuses to work, forcing you to submit the review as 3 stars or better.

“If you think you can trust App Store ratings, you haven’t been paying enough attention,” Eleftheriou writes on Twitter. “This is the iOS *system* rating prompt, not a custom look-alike one. The worst part? This trick is EXTREMELY easy for any developer to do, and not limited to this app.”

The developer of the app has over 15 million downloads on the iOS App Store, Eleftheriou notes, and based on estimated earnings, the developer has earned millions of dollars. Apple, of course, takes its cut of that revenue but is also supposed to be policing the store for scammy apps just like this one.

So, what happened? How did this app fall through the cracks? After Eleftheriou pointed it out, Apple took action, but not before the app had been downloaded an untold number of times. We’ll have to wait and see if the app appears again, or if Apple decides to take any action against the developer, but based on the lax approach the developer has benefited from thus far, it seems unlikely they’ll be banned.