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Apple App Store continues to feature predatory loan apps on top apps chart

Even after reports of some apps threatening vulnerable borrowers surfaced last month, such apps continue to top the charts, bringing into question the effectiveness of Apple’s App Store moderation process

Predatory loan apps continue to populate the Top Finance Apps chart on the Apple App Store in India, bringing into question the effectiveness of the iPhone maker’s App Store moderation process. This is not the first time these apps have been promoted on the App Store.

Predatory loan apps (also referred to as fake loan apps because they don’t have the necessary regulatory permission to function) target vulnerable borrowers. If someone is late on a payment, the apps threaten to (and in some cases actually do) reach out to the friends and family of the borrower. In the worst case, these apps make fake sexual images of the borrower using photos from the phone gallery and threaten to share the same with the entire contact list of the borrower (the apps get access to photos and contacts from the borrowers who unsuspectingly grant these permissions). While these apps primarily existed on the Google Play Store, they now seem to be targeting iPhone users as well. By featuring these apps on the Top Finance Apps chart, Apple is only making it easier for them to target vulnerable borrowers.

In June, a Twitter user shared a list of fake loan apps that “hijacked” the Top Finance Apps chart in India. Shortly after, journalist Sandhya Ramesh shared the experience of a woman who was being blackmailed by one of these loan apps called White Kash, which threatened to send the user’s morphed naked photo to her contact list.

When we contacted Apple for a comment on this, the company responded that the loan apps in question had been removed for violating Apple’s guidelines and that they “were falsely representing an association with a financial institution.” The App Store is “designed to ensure we are providing the safest experience possible to our users,” the company claimed.

Yet, this month, the same Twitter user has twice shared a list of new fake loan apps that feature on the Top Finance Apps chart. On July 10, he shared a list of 27 such apps:

And on July 19, he shared another list of 16 such apps:

MediaNama was able to verify that many of the apps pointed out in the July 10 tweet continue to be accessible on the App Store.

Interestingly, as pointed out by the Twitter user who shared the above list, many of these apps feature very similar characteristics:

  • Fake developer ID (i.e. impersonating the name of a legitimate business that might have the appropriate regulatory permissions to provide loans)
  • Fake address
  • Same app description
  • A one-page website with no substantial info
  • Outlook email for support
  • Heavy Apple Search Ads
  • Multiple negative reviews

Given these characteristics, which clearly all point at something fishy, it’s not clear why Apple is not able to detect and prevent such apps from showing up on the App Store in the first place.

We have reached out to Apple with this question and will update the post when we get a response.

Update (26 July, 4:55 pm): Apple confirmed that the apps highlighted above have been removed from the App Store and that the company has terminated the apps’ developers from its Apple Development Program. The company did not respond to the other questions.

As we pointed out in our Talking Points on the issue last month, we strongly urge Apple to come up with a policy similar to Google, which announced that digital loan apps on the Play Store will not be allowed to access contacts, photos, videos, call logs, external storage, and precise location of users. This measure could be effective in curbing the unethical recovery practices carried out by predatory loan apps, which will, in turn, reduce their incentive to exist in the first place.

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Update (26 July, 4:55 pm): Added Apple’s comments.

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