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Download Bots are the App Industry’s Dirty Little Secret

How often do you see apps climb to the top of the charts and think to yourself, “There’s no way that thing can be so popular”? Turns out you may be onto something, as recent reports suggest that bot downloading and artificial rankings inflation are not only present amongst the development community, but rampant. Inside Mobile Apps recently convened a panel of developers and marketers, the majority of which believe there are a significant number of companies using less than ethical tactics to boost their App Store rating.

“We were approached by these services many months ago,” said Fiksu CEO Micah Adler. “It was presented as an ad network, but it became obvious to us that users weren’t even launching the app. So we stopped using it after that. It’s been this well-known secret in the ecosystem.”

The way the bots work is several dummy accounts (typically numbering in the hundreds or thousands) download a clients app in order to move it quickly up the charts and into a top position. It’s easy to see which accounts are bots though, as the apps are never launched and even simple usage reports will show that a vast majority of “users” downloading an app are simply machines employed by a marketing firm. The primary problem is, many developers and marketers don’t even know if the companies they work with utilize bots.

“We talked to many, many companies, but we don’t know for sure if we did use [services that use bots],” stated Storm8 boss Perry Tam. Tam later added that the company has confirmed they’ve never utilized a bot service and have no plans to do so in the future. Apple issued a strongly worded statement to developers warning them of the consequences of artificially inflating rankings earlier this month, immediately after users on the TouchArcade forums found evidence of tampering amongst several apps in the Top 25.

Having worked in the marketing side of this industry I understand just how difficult it is to get an app noticed and downloaded. Research and personal experience prove the only consistent path to solid sales is to get an app featured by Apple or placed at the head of one of the Top XX lists. Sadly, in order to achieve this goal several desperate companies are falling prey to unscrupulous tactics. We sincerely hope the Apple crackdown carries some weight, because this is an issue that has the potential to completely undermine the entire mobile app industry.

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Brad Hilderbrand
Brad is a freelance writer specializing in the gaming, mobile and tablet industries. He is the founder of BradtheBrokeGamer.com, and would greatly appreciate it if you'd poke your head in and say hi.
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  • thinkoutsidethebox

    If this true what is stopping a major games publisher asking it’s staff to download a new game on release.  10,000 downloads on day one…