In a mad bid to quickly ramp up its new mobile app stores and catch up to Apple and Google, Microsoft has for the past four years quickly approved every app submission imaginable. But this foolhardy strategy has finally caught up with it: After years of complaints about low-quality and scam apps in its Windows Phone Store and Windows Store, Microsoft this week finally admitted it has a problem. And it is belatedly taking steps to fix a disaster of its own making.
"We strive to give our worldwide customer base easy access to amazing app experiences while keeping developer friction to a minimum," Microsoft's Todd Brix writes in a new post to the Building Apps for Windows blog. "From time-to-time this process slips out of sync and we need to recalibrate."
For example, this time it's been out of sync since the Windows Phone Store opened (as the Windows Phone Marketplace) in October 2010.
According to Brix, Microsoft has heard "loud and clear" about various issues customers have been having with its online apps stores, including the terrible search features that put non-official apps above the real apps in search results, even when you type in the exact name of the app.
And then there are the scam apps, which are the real problem. You search for something like "Facebook" and find dozens of apps with the word "Facebook" in their names, and many of them are just paid or advertising-based dummy apps designed to siphon money out of your bank accounts, and don't offer the functionality they claim or that users expect. And these apps don't just steal the names of real products and services, they often steal their identities outright, using their trademarked or copyrighted icons, branding and other imagery. Until very recently, Microsoft's policy was to allow this behavior and only make changes if the IP holder complains.
Microsoft changed its approval and certification policies for new apps a few months back. But it's done nothing to fix the many bogus apps that are still in the stores until now.
"We've been ... conducting a review of Windows Store to identify titles that do not comply with our modified certification requirements," he writes. "Most of the developers behind apps that are found to violate our policies have good intentions and agree to make the necessary changes when notified. Others have been less receptive, causing us to remove more than 1,500 apps as part of this review so far."
If you've been stung by a scam app, Brix says Microsoft will "gladly" refund its cost. But he doesn't provide a mechanism for getting a refund, just one for reporting "infringement concerns."
Come on, Microsoft. These apps are so obvious it's unclear why we have to do all the work: Microsoft should proactively refund the cost of these bogus apps. After all, it's the reason they're in the store(s) in the first place. (To be clear, this is a huge problem on Windows Phone Store, too, and not just Windows Store. In fact, it was a problem for two years on Windows Phone before Windows Store even launched.)
This whole thing is shameful. Microsoft created the walled garden of Windows Store apps and the single source for apps in the store(s) specifically so users have a trusted place to find apps. This is a violation of that trust and it usurps the very point of the platform(s).