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Apple thwarts bait-and-switch iPhone apps

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By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 10 Jan 2013 at 11:48

Apple has moved to block a bait-and-switch loophole in its App Store, but has drawn criticism for taking so long to fix the issue.

Bait-and-switch tactics involve portraying goods for sale as an enticing proposition before swapping them for something less appealing, such as a substandard app instead of a popular game.

The company has quietly updated its developer guidelines, with Apple now insisting that app screenshots are locked once an app appears in its store, meaning scammers can no longer switch the images used for promotional screenshots.

"Beginning 9 January, app screenshots will be locked in iTunes Connect once your app has been approved," the company said in its announcement. "New screenshots may be uploaded when you submit a binary for an update to an existing app or a new app."

The changes mean it will be harder for con artists to fool downloaders into paying for a useless app, security experts claim.

One wonders why Apple, a company that is so punctilious about the actual software it lets into the App Store, hasn't enforced a corresponding precision in App Store advertising

“Produce a legitimate, uncontroversial but not terribly interesting app - something you can do quickly and inexpensively - and get Apple to approve it for sale in the App Store at a modest cost," said security company Sophos in a blog post explaining how the scam worked.

"Then do a bait-and-switch not of the app itself, but of your promotional material, dropping in a screenshot from a well-known or highly professional app to make your software look like great value for money."

Although the app will eventually be kicked off the store, the perpetrators could already have netted a decent lump sum for little effort, the security company claims.

While Sophos praised the changes, it also questioned why it had taken Apple so long to address the issue, with several related scams already well documented.

"One wonders why Apple, a company that is so punctilious about the actual software it lets into the App Store, hasn't enforced a corresponding precision in App Store advertising all along," the company said.

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