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Monday, February 06, 2012, 05:54 pm PT (08:54 pm ET)

Apple warns it will crack down on App Store rank fraud services

Apple has warned App Store developers against using promotional services that seek to increase the visibility of their titles by automating sales to inflate their apps' apparent popularity or by posting phony reviews, threatening to terminate their accounts if they do.

In a message posted to Apple's Developer site today titled "Adhering to Guidelines on Third-Party Marketing Services," the company noted:

"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."

The message links to an internal page that outlines advice for App Store developers ranging from submitting apps to navigating the approval process to managing and marketing apps, including a section titled "Tips for Creating a Great Presence on the App Store" and instructions for how to participate in the App Store Affiliate Program and the App Store Volume Purchase Program for businesses and education institutions.

Phony promotion

Apple's comments appear to be a reaction to a forum posting to touch arcade yesterday, where a developer reported, "I came across this ad network which guaranteed to get my app into the Top 25 in the app store at a relatively cheap price ($5000)."

The poster, identified as "walterkaman," noted that the service claimed to have promoted 8 of the top 25 free iPhone App Store titles to their position by hiring "someone to build him a bot farm" to "automatically download his clients' apps and drive up their rankings."

Despite the warning posted by Apple today, the apps implicated by the post as allegedly using the service, including Crowdstar's Social Girl, Booyah's Pet Town, Funzio's Crime City, Breaktime Studio's Sweet Shop, SGN's Fluff Friends and TinyCo's VIP Poker are all still listed in the App Store and remain top ranking free apps (all are monetized via In-App Purchases).



The poster did however note that the company promoting the service said that Apple already knew about the issue and had taken action to ban a developer named Dream Cortex for "botting." The user complained, "I am very disappointed to know that these 8 other apps are getting insane exposure on the app store by paying a mere $5000."

Apple has continually worked to shut down fraud in the App Store, a difficult task given the allure of hundreds of thousands of dollars that can be made by gaming the market. In January, Apple cracked down on a piracy service set up to facilitate the theft of apps, while two days ago it kicked a number of copycat apps out of the App Store that all appeared to be blatant efforts to rip off popular titles.