Last month, an app was found and later removed from Apple’s app store that blurred the lines between deceptive advertising and outright malice. The app described itself as a user guide for Microsoft Word, and was attributed to the developer "Super Racing Real Games" rather than Microsoft. But plenty of people were fooled into thinking that this was in fact an iOS version of the popular word processing software.
Since the app sold for $9.99, people could be excused for thinking this might be something more substantial than a how-to video. This was not a cheap mistake for those people who were duped.
Today, another app was found and removed from Apple's app store for having deceptive practices. This one, named “Find and Call” was leaking people’s contacts, and sending SMS messages advertising the product to those contacts.
These are not the first apps to engage in less-than-transparent behavior that many people found objectionable, and undoubtedly these will not be the last. Mobile apps are still fairly new territory, and the rules of ethical behavior have not been as thoroughly laid out as they have been on the desktop. Developers are clearly pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior.
Sometimes this bad behavior is in the name of marketing, like these two apps. And sometimes it’s just because of poor security practices like LinkedIn’s iOS app leaking potentially confidential information. Either way, hopefully users will have a better view into this sort of behavior with the next version of iOS, which is due to be released this fall. This next version, iOS 6, is currently in beta testing and it includes notifications when apps ask to access data from your contacts, calendars, reminders and photos.
Until then, it’s up to the buyer to beware. Be sure to thoroughly read descriptions and reviews of products before you install them.