Kosta Eleftheriou, a co-founder of the Fleksy keyboard app, later sold to Pinterest in an acquihire deal, has been calling attention to Apple App Store issues like fake reviews, ratings, and subscription scams, as well as malicious clone apps, after his app, FlickType, was targeted by scammers. Now, the developer is taking the next step in his App Store crusade: he’s filing a lawsuit against Apple.
The suit, which the developer claims was filed Wednesday in California Superior Court in Santa Clara County, alleges that Apple enticed developers to build applications for its App Store — the only place iOS applications can be legally sold — by claiming it’s a safe and trustworthy place but doesn’t protect legitimate app developers against scammers profiting from their hard work.
What’s more, the suit says, Apple is disincentivized to do so because scammers are generating revenue for Apple via their use of subscriptions, which involve a revenue share with Apple.
App Store scammers have personally impacted Eleftheriou. He left a well-paying job at Pinterest to develop his FlickType app, an alternative swipe keyboard for Apple Watch. After its launch, the app was targeted by copycat app makers who claim their apps offer the same feature set as FlickType but instead lock users into high-priced subscriptions for their poorly designed software. They also flood their apps with fake ratings and reviews to make them appear a much better option when users are looking for an app in this space.
Meanwhile, FlickType sports a 3.5-star rating, as it’s often dinged for Apple Watch platform issues that are outside the developer’s control or missing features users want to call attention to. Eleftheriou engages with his app’s users, however — responding to complaints and letting users know when features they’ve requested were added, or bugs have been fixed. Scammers buy enough 5-star reviews to keep their apps’ overall ratings higher.
In other words, Eleftheriou is doing the hard work of being an App Store developer carving out a category for swipe keyboards for the Watch. Still, his potential income is being shifted over to scam apps with a falsified App Store presence.
In years past, Apple took issues of app quality seriously. It cleaned up shady subscription apps and removed clones and spam from the App Store through regular sweeps. It even once went so far as to ban apps built using templates to raise the bar on app quality, which angered small businesses that didn’t have the resources or funds to make more professional apps. (Apple later revised its policy to be more equitable.)
But the new lawsuit alleges that Apple is now doing little to police scammers’ apps because it profits from developer misconduct. Eleftheriou also notes he has raised these issues to Apple via KPAW, LLC, but Apple did “next to nothing” to resolve the problem.
Eleftheriou’s story is even more complicated, though, because his app was rejected from the App Store numerous times after meeting with Apple special projects manager Randy Marsden over a possible acquisition. He tells TechCrunch numbers were discussed with Apple, and his meetings had included a director and a VP, among others. Apple was considering turning FlickType into an Apple Watch feature, the lawsuit notes.
Shortly after that, FlickType was pulled from the App Store over App Store Review Guidelines violations, even as a competitor’s app was approved. Eleftheriou appealed for his app through Developer Relations but was given no guidance on preventing the same problem in the future, he said.
Over the months that followed, FlickType continued to face rejections from App Store Review. Apple’s App Store Review said that the app offered a “poor user experience,” even though tech journalists at numerous outlets had praised it, and Apple had once considered buying it. App Review also told the developer that “full keyboard apps are not appropriate for Apple Watch,” while it continued to allow competitors to publish their keyboard apps.