Crazy iPhone rig shows how Chinese workers manipulate App Store rankings

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Forget building a quality app; this is the way to score a hit in the App Store.
Forget building a quality app; this is the way to score a hit in the App Store. Photo: Weibo

An app manipulation farm sounds like someplace developers would go for a weekend retreat, complete with chiropractor sessions. In fact — according to a photo which has gone viral on social media in China — it’s a place where devs can pay for their apps’ download numbers to be artificially inflated.

Why would anyone want to do this? Simply put: because more downloads (perhaps accompanied by positive reviews) enhances apps’ chart position, thereby raising their discoverability level, and hopefully prompting people to download them.

The photo in question appears to show a worker at one such place, sitting in front of what look like around 100 iPhone 5c units. Reports claim that her job is download, install, and uninstall specific apps repeatedly to boost their App Store rankings. Another similar table can be seen opposite her.

The image is accompanied by a second one, showing the alleged prices being charged to get your app to the top of the App Store rankings. Here’s how much you need to pay to secure a no. 1 rated app for yourself:

app-store-manipulation-prices
Want an App Store hit? You’ve come to the right place.

The alleged price sheet claims that a person looking to get into the top 10 free apps list is looking at spending $11,200. To stay there, they will then need to shell out $65,000 per week.

By searching for “app store ranking manipulation” using China’s most popular C2C e-commerce site, Taobao, numerous similar services can be found. As much as Apple frowns on manipulation of the App Store rankings, for local entrepreneurs a scheme like this is a certified cash cow — even with the large number of handsets and employees you need to spend money on.

Via: Techinasia

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  • PuNksterHD

    It doesn’t matter. If your app is a shit, a shit it will definitely stay.

    • Quintan Neville

      Not exactly true. All it takes is a download that a user forgets about. If the app looks good in the app store, there’s a huge chunk of users that will download it and forget about ever using it. In the case of shitty apps with “high” ratings, the odds of a user requesting a refund on a shitty $0.99 app are probably low enough to justify spending money on a false ranking service.

    • Annihlator

      I dare concur, just look at the iPhone 5 for proof.

    • CyncialOne

      But if it’s just as good as the others this will crush the competition. No new trick BTW.

  • El Caballero que dice Ni

    This happens because the App Store’s search algorithm is completely biased towards downloads and reviews. New apps have no chance unless they invest top dollar on ads or on some sneaky crap like this. This is Apple’s own fault. If they had a straight search this wouldn’t be happening.

    • HARPOON F. FLYBY

      they do have straight search. The algorithm for trending might not be exactly tuned to your liking, but almost every landing page in existence has some sort of “popularity” ranking. If the concept truly sucked then Google wouldn’t be here

  • TrueNorth_Steve

    BTW – why is she sitting with her jacket on? seems odd, did they place the ‘farm’ in Siberia?

    • TheSechuan

      Because it’s WINTER and powering heaters is more expensive than telling people to put on a coat…

      • Greg_the_Rugger

        She has her hand muff so she’s fine.

    • Helder Pinto

      Are you serious dude?

    • Frank Newberry

      China borders Sibera.

    • HARPOON F. FLYBY

      Most of the world doesn’t have central heaters, or AC. Get a clue

  • luke

    I find this hard believe. I am guessing that someone saw this picture and made up this story. Two thing stick out right off the bat. It would take about 100 stations just like this to get an app to the top of the charts, you are talking about tens of thousands of downlaods. Furthermore this station is more likely testing something about the iPhone 5c for quality control. If it were simply an app ranking thing they would have spent less than half the money getting iPod touches.

    • QwertyJuan

      The more I think about it, the more I tend to agree with this… at first I didn’t…. but 100 iPhone’s each with a unique Apple ID for the rating would only be 100. In order to get 1000 reviews for instance she would have to sign in/out of each phone with 10 times each. (with a new Apple ID each time).

      10,000 reviews? 100 Apple ID’s/phone…. it’s POSSIBLE… but WOW… would that ever be hard to manage.

      • OhStopItYou!

        You really underestimate the extent people will go to for money. Most people in China (who are looking for decent wages) are ready to do anything to make a bit.
        It’s a job. It pays you and your family (especially if it’s a home business)

      • Greg_the_Rugger

        I really do hate the way Apple doesn’t allow you to browse for things. You have to specifically know what you are looking for. Seeing this makes me understand the odd apps that appear in the search. I would think that Apple would be able to identify these rogue IDs which all have the same applications in them.

      • Jesse Davis

        They have the new explore system but nobody uses it.

      • kimura kano

        first of all i think she’s docking the Nebuchanessar mother ship cut her some slack. That or it’s a sick drum kit that would make Thomas Dolby jealous
        Ya agree with QwertyJuan and OhStopItYou, too much to log in, log out of each unit. But then again one can buy FB likes, even fake female profiles for hookup sites… not that I know anything about this. /-|
        PS why is anything mildly suspicious always titled ‘The Chinese’ like we’re all criminals. If FB, MS and startups would stop buying their services, there wouldn’t be a need.

      • Tim LeVier

        I doubt she’s only focusing on App Store farming. I bet she’s also taking orders for twitter followers, facebook page likes, etc etc. Just this week I got 3 new followers on Twitter (I usually only have about 30.) and 2 of them were bogus twitter farm accounts. I blocked them and went about my business. The farm industry is doing quite well it would seem.

      • Jesse Davis

        Its possible but FB/Twitter farm accounts probably use PCs. App reviews are device specific which may necessitate the need for all these devices.

    • OhStopItYou!

      With the price they are asking, I see it’s quite feasible.

    • anon_coward

      Nope its true. Maybe not in thus picture, but there are marketing companies who do this to get an app ranked.

      Just like a book on the ny times and other bestseller lists

    • Jesse Davis

      There’s already 3 of these stations in the picture. Who’s to say there’s not 100 more of these things ready to go. Labor is no problem, plenty of people willing to sit there all day long and tinker with iphones. As for Quality control, how many of the same phone do you need for testing an app or service?

  • FirefoxGuru

    This is just an all-time low for human-beings. Really China, really?

    • Aldo Thee Apache

      You’re talking about the same country that put lead in baby toys. Compared to that app farming looks like humanitarian work.

      • http://astore.amazon.com/spyke-20 TJ Spyke

        The United States used to allow lead in baby toys too, just saying.

  • Jared Porter

    Since these IPhones are all different colors, does that mean they are all 5C’s? Or are they in cases? Why not use cheaper iPhone 4’s or iPod Touches, as has been suggested?

    • Jesse Davis

      Apple would know if they’re ipod touches or not. Not sure how it effects things but there’s probably a reason for it.

  • Barrett Jasper

    WOW, chinese always thinking of a way to profit! awesome…kinda…

    • HARPOON F. FLYBY

      Awesome. Where there’s a will, humans find a way

  • http://search.websonar.com:8080/ Duane Bemister

    The problem is the consumers taste for free and the majority of app vendors catering to this group. I think Apple made a big mistake initally providing the structure to accommodate this situation.
    No one really wants to be tracked and sold, view ads, or be nagged to purchase functions that would normally be provided in the app but “getting a deal” is the first thing they will boast about when telling their friends about acquiring their new (fill in the blank).
    Of course if you take this to it’s logical conclusion then the most impressive acquisition would be free, or optionally stolen. Since the producer obviously cannot actually give you their product for free they have to fool the customer with sales and as Ron Johnston found out the hard way, most consumers actually like to be fooled.
    I think the solution for apps would be a separate section in the app store for smart customers.

  • Jesse Davis

    I’m not saying that Flappy Bird did this, but that’s an example of a small crappy app that got the visibility of being on the top charts and staying there. With a farm like this, that could be anybody’s small crappy app up there making boatloads. Once it’s up there, organic takes over and people will download your app, crappy or not.

    • HARPOON F. FLYBY

      If the app truly sucks then organic won’t actually be organic, but decay

  • http://travelbossaccessories.com/ TravelBossAcc

    If the allegations about this photo is true, it is pretty crazy.

  • sockatume

    Those phones are all showing either the settings screen or a social networking app I don’t recognise. I’m inclined to think that there’s something else going on in that image – perhaps low-paid bug testing work.

  • Jorge

    Typical for Chinese.

  • Mike Bellman

    Well, now we know who bought all those crappy iPhone 5c units

    • jamiebronson

      The 5c is awesome. I bought on as a back up because I love the colors.

  • jonathan

    chinese are scam artists in everything. they would sell poisonous food/medicine to their own family to make a buck.

    • HARPOON F. FLYBY

      They must be rich then, lots of people over there

  • Frank Newberry

    This is impossible. Everything Apple does, makes, runs, is 100% trustworthy and perfect.

  • Frank Newberry

    Two things no one should ever pay for: Sex and apps.

    • HARPOON F. FLYBY

      Are you referring to some sort of commune situation?

  • Pucker

    There are basic machine learning techniques to filter these out. It would amount to tailoring app store content for the particular user (…grouping users). So, people who vote up bad apps like these will be put into their own category and there would be no way to game the whole system.

    Google & Bing have done this with search rankings, and it’s the whole model Netflix is built around for recommending movies.

  • CyncialOne

    I find it hard to believe the prices are anywhere near that high. Perhaps a cheaper way to do it . .. o wait, problem solving is fun and I definitely know at least one much better way, but I’m not giving these guys an ounce of help.

  • PhantomFlash

    I’d say this is a pretty freakishly innovative way to provide a service that a market has demand for. Manipulative? Read up on how Billboard chart was manipulated in the 70’s. People will always try to game the system, don’t hate the player, hate the game.