Apple may be finally cracking down on bots after warning to developers

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By Inside Mobile Apps Comments

Apple issued a warning to developers last night reminding them that using third-party advertising services guaranteeing top rankings could result in the loss of their developer membership.

In a note entitled, “Adhering to Guidelines on Third-Party Marketing Services” last night, Apple reiterated:

“Once you build a great app, you want everyone to know about it. However, when you promote your app, you should avoid using services that advertise or guarantee top placement in App Store charts. Even if you are not personally engaged in manipulating App Store chart rankings or user reviews, employing services that do so on your behalf may result in the loss of your Apple Developer Program membership. Get helpful tips and resources on marketing your apps the right way from the App Store Resource Center.”

It looks like the company is finally cracking down on bots or companies that use fraudulent iTunes accounts to download apps thousands of times to boost developer rankings. We’ve heard complaints about these companies for several months but have never been able to definitively prove their tactics. Most individual developers deny using them when asked.

The names of alleged bot farms that come up most commonly are GTekna and AppMagenta, but they never responded to any of our multiple inquiries over the past few months. We could not definitively prove what they did. GTekna claims it can get developers into the Top 25 in 1.5 to 2 days with at least 60,000 downloads through “banner ads” on “partner websites.” But one developer who ran a test claimed their app received no active usage from the thousands of downloads they got from the company. We had heard that they had also raised rates from $5,000 to $15,000 over the past half year as competition increased in the store. These services also benefited with extra business after Apple clamped down on incentivized installs back in April.

The bot issue resurfaced this week after a developer posted on Touch Arcade that one of these marketing services approached him and promised Top 25 ranking for $5,000. The marketing representative said his company worked with TinyCo, Mindjolt SGN, Funzio and Crowdstar (see below).

When the developer asked for more, the marketing representative explained how his company worked:

“I was totally SHOCKED when I heard that there were 8 apps on the Top 25 Free App store that were all promoted by them. At this point, I was pretty curious on how he’s able to do that (I was told by an AdMob sales person before that it takes a lot of money and traffic to promote an app to the Top 10). That’s when he let loose the BIGGEST FRAUD ever, he said he had outsourced someone to build him a bot farm and the bots will automatically download his clients’ apps and drive up their rankings!!! He even told me that even though I might see my app climb up the app store, they aren’t “REAL” at first until it gets to the top and that’s when REAL HUMAN players will start seeing my app and play it.

This was getting quite crazy, on one hand, I really wanted downloads for my new app, but at the same time, this sounds like a HUGE FRAUD. I told the guy that I’ll need to think more about it, but he then warned me that Apple already KNEWof this issue and has already taken action and banned a developer called Dream Cortex recently for botting. He said that’s why he’s charging me only $5000, it would have been more expensive before, but he’s trying to get as many clients as possible before Apple stop the botting.

It’s really disheartening to know that Apple is aware of this issue, but yet, they still allow these 8 apps on the app store to use bots. For all these time that I’ve been working hard at developing my app, I am very disappointed to know that these 8 other apps are getting insane exposure on the app store by paying a mere $5000.

This really needed to be looked into. I will be honest to everyone that I did considered paying that $5000 at one point, but I decided not to because deep down I really love developing apps on this platform and it saddens me to know that’s the way to be successful on the App Store.”

We’ve reached out to all of the developers alleged to have been involved for comment. But take note that all of their games still seem to be in the store at this time.

Crowdstar says that it uses more than 30 companies to acquire users including iAd, Chartboost and Flurry. “Ad networks keep their ad partner information confidential, but we hope that none of the partners ever use farms or bots,” the company said.

The weird thing is at least one developer told us that they actually personally complained to a senior app store representative about the existence of these bots months ago, but Apple didn’t do anything about it.

The biggest question seems to be — what took so long?