Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

AmpMe is not a brand new app that emerged to extort money from unsuspecting users. Do you see the photo at the top of this post? That’s from 2015, when we first covered the idea: an app that can sync a roomful of smartphones into a single giant speaker with no cost in sight. But as App Store scam hunter Kosta Eleftheriou points out, the app looks like seriously shady over six years later — if you downloaded it yesterday, it would immediately try to sell you for an auto-recurring $9.99-per-week subscription. That’s $520 a year, an incredible amount if you pull it off as a party trick and then forget to cancel.

AppFigures estimates the app has brought in $13 million since 2018.

As we discussed last April, it’s ridiculously easy to find scams in Apple’s App Store – just follow the money and look at the reviews. If you see an app that charges outrageous subscription fees, yet has tons of five-star ratings, there may be something wrong. And if those reviews look absolutely fake and the app is barely functional, you’ve probably seen a scam.

What is less easy to find: a company accused of fraud that wants to stand up for itself. Most are completely silent, but when we reached out to AmpMe for comment, we got a response from the support email address. Here it is in full:

Hi Sean,

The free version of our app is the most popular version and the vast majority of our users have never paid a cent. Given its reception and popularity, AmpMe is a highly regarded app and works as advertised.

Claiming that our users usually pay $520 per year is inconsistent with reality. For example, in 2021, the average user who subscribed and used our free trial paid an average of $17 in total. If you only hire paying users, the average annual subscription revenue is about $75. Internally, this has reinforced our belief that AmpMe prices be transparent with clear and easy opt-out procedures.

As for the reviews, we hear the feedback loud and clear. Over the years, like most startups, we’ve hired outside consultants to help us with marketing and app store optimization. More overview is needed and we are currently working on that.

We always adhere to Apple’s subscription guidelines and are constantly working to ensure their high standards are met. We also respect and value community feedback. Therefore, a new version of the app with a lower price has already been submitted to the App Store for review.

The AmpMe Team

We can’t confirm AmpMe’s numbers, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. There are at least three other interesting takeaways in that answer:

  1. AmpMe does not deny that it hired someone to pump its brand into the App Store. Nor does it promise not to do so in the future. It just points the blame elsewhere. Perhaps it is angry that his consultants have falsified these assessments. Maybe it’s just annoyed that they got caught.
  2. AmpMe lowers its price as a result of this research. In fact, the company’s update has already been approved and is live in the store. It’s now $4.99 a week, or $260 a year.
  3. AmpMe is not dropping its subscription tactics, which the company says are “transparent with clear and easy opt-out procedures”.

I downloaded a copy of AmpMe and I have to admit it’s not as blatant as I expected when I heard the news. While it definitely hits you with a subscription request the moment you open the app, lures you into a three-day free subscription, and the little “X” to get around that screen is hard to spot, at least the app clearly says how much will it be charged right away in big white letters.

And if you press the “X” and skip the subscription, the app seems functional – if only as a way to watch music videos from YouTube while chatting with randos or friends, if the multi-phone sync functionality as speakers is locked behind AmpMe’s paywall.

So the fact that Apple isn’t pulling these off the App Store (and instead seems to be helping AmpMe clean up the more obvious fake reviews, according to TechCrunch) doesn’t really surprise me. It’s not one of the worst offenders, and the state of the tech industry is that many, many companies are taking advantage of the “oops, forgot to unsubscribe” phenomenon, including Apple itself.

But as I suggested in September, the most valuable and profitable company in the world, the company that sells privacy as a brand and claims to put customers first, could do a lot more to show it. It could lead here instead of follow. It could stop taking advantage of people’s forgetfulness, offer automatic refunds when people have been scammed, stop auto-renewal of subscriptions and destroy the star rating system that allows fakes of reviews to flourish. Last October it took one of those suggestions and came back a way to actually report App Store scams. We have more.

I do wonder how much more there is to this whole idea of ​​”outside advisors” that AmpMe calls. It’s not the first company Eleftheriou has discovered where a seemingly legit app that’s been around for years generates a new batch of fake reviews and advertises a new screen with an exorbitant subscription price that you have to pay or decline when you first launch. (In fact, many of these screens look largely the same.) I wouldn’t be surprised if there are companies offering the same service for old apps in exchange for a drop in revenue. (Looks like it’s not the first time AmpMe’s CEO has cashed in on an old app, either.)

If you have been approached by such a company, or if you work for such a company, I would be happy to talk to you. I’m at [email protected]

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