Apple prevents fraudulent transactions worth over $1.5bn on App Store in 2020

More than 180,000 new developers launched their apps on App Store last year

Shoppers wear protective masks outside an Apple Inc. store at the Americana at Brand shopping mall in Glendale, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. Los Angeles County and San Francisco County have reached a threshold to enter California’s most lenient yellow Covid-19 tier this week, setting the stage for the economy to be unshackled to the widest extent currently possible. Photographer: Bing Guan/Bloomberg
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Tech company Apple blocked potentially fraudulent transactions worth more than $1.5 billion on its App Store last year, the company said.

The iPhone manufacturer prevented the theft of money, confidential data and users’ time and kept nearly 1 million “risky and vulnerable” new apps away from customers.

“Threats have been present since the first day the App Store launched on iPhone and they have increased in both scale and sophistication in the years since,” Apple said.

“It takes significant resources behind the scenes to ensure these bad actors can’t exploit users’ most sensitive information, from location to payment details,” it added.

The use of apps surged in popularity amid the coronavirus-related travel restrictions as users turned online to work, study and be entertained.

Launched in 2008, the App Store is home to more than 1.8 million apps and is visited by over half a billion people each week across 175 countries. Sales worth $519bn were facilitated through the platform in 2019, consulting firm Analysis Group revealed in a June study supported by Apple.

Last year, the company said more than 180,000 new developers launched their apps on its platform, which had 1.5 billion active devices, compared to 1.4 billion in 2019.

But with increased usage of apps, security threats have also grown.

Apple's app review team rejected more than 48,000 apps for containing hidden or undocumented features and more than 150,000 apps were banned after they were found to be spam or to mislead in ways such as manipulating users into making a purchase.

The iPhone maker prevented more than 3 million stolen cards from being used to purchase goods and services and banned nearly 1 million accounts from transacting again.

To counter such threats, the company is offering secure payment technologies like Apple Pay and StoreKit, which are used by more than 900,000 apps to sell goods and services on the App Store.

Some developers also followed a bait-and-switch approach in an attempt to deceive the company, fundamentally changing how the app works after review to “evade guidelines and commit forbidden and even criminal actions”.

Last year, about 95,000 apps were removed from the App Store for fraudulent violations, mainly for bait-and-switch behaviour, Apple said.

“Apple has rejected or removed apps that switched functionality after initial review to become real-money gambling apps, predatory loan issuers  … used in-game signals to facilitate drug purchasing and rewarded users for broadcasting illicit content through video chat,” Apple said.

Launched in 2008, the App Store is home to more than 1.8 million apps. Courtesy Analysis Group

The company deactivated 244 million customer accounts due to fraudulent and abusive activity. In addition, 424 million attempted account creations were rejected because they displayed patterns consistent with fraudulent activity.

One of the common reasons why apps are rejected is because developers ask for more user data than they need or they intend to mishandle the data they collect, according to Apple. In 2020, it rejected over 215,000 apps for these privacy violations.

“Even with these stringent review safeguards in place, problems still surface,” the company said.

Users can report problematic apps by choosing the Report a Problem feature on the App Store or calling Apple Support.