AmpMe isn’t a brand-new app that popped up just to scam unsuspecting users out of their money. See the photo atop this post? That’s from 2015, when we first covered the idea: an app that can sync up a room full of smartphones into a single gigantic speaker with no fees in sight. But as App Store scam hunter Kosta Eleftheriou points out, the app looks seriously shady more than six years later — if you downloaded it yesterday, it would immediately try to sell you on a $9.99 a week automatic recurring subscription. That’s $520 a year, an incredible sum if you pull it out as a party trick and then forget to cancel.
AppFigures estimates the app has raked in $13 million since 2018.
3. Buy lots of fake reviews on a daily basis (notice the pattern of all these non-sensical reviewer “names”): pic.twitter.com/VtabR80QkP— Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) January 10, 2022
As we discussed last April, it’s ridiculously easy to find scams on Apple’s App Store — just follow the money and look at the reviews. If you see an app that charges ridiculous subscription fees, yet still has loads of five-star ratings, something might be off. And if those reviews look absolutely fake, and the app’s barely functional, you’ve probably spotted a scam.
What’s less easy to find: a company accused of scamming willing to stand up for itself. Most are completely silent, but when we reached AmpMe for comment, we got a reply from its support email address. Here it is in full:
The free version of our app is the most popular version and the vast majority of our users never paid a dime. Given its reception and popularity, AmpMe is a valued app and works as advertised.
To claim that our users are commonly paying $520 per year does not reflect reality. For example, in 2021, the average user that subscribed and took advantage of our free trial paid a total average of $17. If you take only paying users, the average yearly subscription revenue is about $75. Internally, this has reinforced our belief that AmpMe’s pricing is transparent with clear and easy opt-out procedures.
Regarding the reviews, we hear the feedback loud and clear. Through the years, like most startups, we’ve hired outside consultants to help us with marketing and app store optimization. More oversight is needed and that’s what we are currently working on.
We always adhere to Apple’s subscription guidelines and are continually working to ensure their high standards are met. We also respect and value the community’s 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 reply:
- AmpMe isn’t denying that it hired someone to pump its brand in the App Store. Nor is it pledging not to do that in future. It’s simply pointing the blame somewhere else. Maybe it’s angry its consultants faked these reviews. Maybe it’s just annoyed they got caught.
- AmpMe is lowering its price as a result of this scrutiny. In fact, the company’s update has already been approved and is live on the store. It’s $4.99 a week now, or $260 a year.
- AmpMe isn’t dropping its subscription tactics, which the company believes is “transparent with clear and easy opt-out procedures”.
I downloaded a copy of AmpMe, and I have to admit it’s not quite as blatant as I expected having heard the news. While it absolutely does hit you with a subscription request the moment you open the app, tempts you into a three-day free subscription, and the little “X” to bypass that screen is hard to spot, the app does at least clearly say how much it’s going to charge in big white letters right away.
And if you do hit the “X” and skip the subscription, the app seems functional — if only as a way to watch music videos from YouTube while you chat with randos or friends, as the sync-multiple-phones-as-speakers functionality is locked behind AmpMe’s paywall.
So the fact that Apple isn’t pulling this one from the App Store (and instead appears 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 profit from the “whoops, forgot to cancel my subscription” phenomenon, including Apple itself.
But as I suggested in September, the most valuable and profitable company in the world, the one that sells privacy as its brand and claims to put customers first, could do a heck of a lot more to show it. It could lead here instead of following. It could stop profiting from people’s forgetfulness, provide automatic refunds when people have been scammed, stop auto-renewing subscriptions by default, and kill off the star rating system that allows review fakes to flourish. Last October, it took one of those suggestions and brought back a way to actually report App Store scams. We have more.
I do wonder how much more there is to this whole “outside consultants” idea that AmpMe mentions. It isn’t the first company Eleftheriou has uncovered where a seemingly legitimate app that’s been around for years sprouts a new set of fake reviews, and a new screen advertising an exorbitant subscription price that you have to pay or dismiss the first time you launch. (Many of these screens even look largely the same.) I wouldn’t be surprised if there are companies going around shopping this exact service to old apps, in exchange for a cut of the revenue. (It seems like it may not be the first time AmpMe’s CEO cashed in on an old app, either.)
If you’ve been approached by such a company, or work for such a company, I’d love to talk to you. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.