According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, “The reality is that the web in some areas has become a dark place.”
That was a comment he made recently to The New York Times’ Kara Swisher, during an interview with her for her Sway podcast — an interview that also included Cook addressing the situation around Apple’s $64 billion App Store, among many other topics. “In any given week,” according to Cook, “100,000 applications come into the app review. Forty thousand of them are rejected. Most of them are rejected because they don’t work or don’t work like they say that they work. You can imagine if curation went away, what would occur to the App Store in a very short amount of time.” This sounds pretty good until you hear from a mobile app developer like Kosta Eleftheriou, who’s become one of the App Store’s biggest critics. Separate from a lawsuit he filed last month related to the App Store, accusing Apple of wielding monopoly power and running roughshod over small app developers like him, he’s called out Apple repeatedly for app scams and other problematic applications that Apple has allowed into the store that have ended up fleecing many consumers.
Recently, he’s called attention to a number of gaming apps found in the App Store that Apple’s review process apparently didn’t catch or thought were fine. They include two apps that basically turn into casinos when you open them and, he says, operate outside of Apple’s in-app purchase system (the two apps are Lucky Stars and Vegas Pirates).
This @AppStore app pretends to be a game for kids 4+, but if you are in Russia (or use a VPN) it becomes an online casino that doesn’t even use Apple’s in-app-purchase system.
— Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) April 20, 2021
Both of these apps are now gone from the App Store, but another reason he points to as to why these apps should have raised some obvious red flags is the fact that the developer’s website listed on the App Store pointed to ngs.ru, which is the address for a Russian news outlet.
Why he’s become such an incredulous, vocal critic of these kinds of things on the App Store is because, as he’s explained via Twitter, zeroing in on these scammy, shady apps is not that difficult. It simply involves looking for the biggest money-makers, then taking a closer look at the ones with suspicious reviews and high subscription prices. Bingo.
Congress, for its part, has been taking a closer look, itself, at the App Store this week, with a hearing that touched on a number of the recurring criticisms of the store (including Apple’s oft-derided 30% app revenue cut, Apple’s curation and security measures, and whether the App Store has too much power). During this week’s US Senate committee hearing, Spotify chief legal officer Horacio Gutierrez testified that Apple has bullied the music streaming giant in a number of ways, including by making retroactive changes to App Store rules and forcing Spotify — a competitor to Apple Music — to wait months for app update approvals.
On a related note, a big court battle between Apple and Epic Games is also imminent, with some of these same issues around the App Store being at the core of that court action. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney and Apple’s App Store head Phil Schiller will both be on hand for the trial, which stems from Epic launching an in-app payment system on iPhones to get around paying Apple’s fees. Because of that violation of the App Store rules, Apple kicked Epic, which makes the hugely popular game Fortnite, off the App Store.