Virtual Phone Number Apps are Gaming the App Store with Duplicates
If you’ve searched the App Store for an app to get a second phone number, chances are you found dozens of apps with very little differences. A handful of companies are spamming the App Store with duplicated apps. This strategy is against Apple’s rules.
The App Store Review Guidelines are detailed rules that define what you can and cannot do on the App Store. As soon as you sign up for a developer account and submit an app to the App Store review team, you agree to comply with those rules. It’s a long document, but rule 4.3 titled “Spam” is straightforward:
Don’t create multiple Bundle IDs of the same app. If your app has different versions for specific locations, sports teams, universities, etc., consider submitting a single app and provide the variations using in-app purchase. Also avoid piling on to a category that is already saturated; the App Store has enough fart, burp, flashlight, and Kama Sutra apps already. Spamming the store may lead to your removal from the Developer Program.
A tipster looked at a specific category in the App Store — VoIP apps that let you get a second phone number and send and receive calls and texts from that new number. I looked at that category myself, and here are the results of my investigation.
Companies don’t even try to hide the fact that have submitted multiple versions of the same app with different names and icons. But core features remain the same. Apple hasn’t enforced its own guideline properly and developers took advantage of that grey area.
Example 1: TextMe
As you can see on the company’s website, TextMe currently operates three apps and is open about it — TextMe Up, TextMe and FreeTone. These three apps all have an average of 4.7 stars in the App Store with hundreds of thousands of reviews in total.
The wording is slightly different for each app. TextMe Up lets you “call & text anyone in the world from your mobile, tablet, and computer,” while TextMe lets you “get a new phone number and start texting and making calls for free” and FreeTone is all about “[enjoying] free calls & texts to the phone numbers in the US and Canada.”
But if you look at the App Store screenshots, the company doesn’t even bother changing the screenshots or marketing copy.
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