Apple Locking App Store Screenshots After Approval to Fight Scam

iOS and Mac App Store developers are now prevented from changing their apps’ screenshots after approval unless an update or new binary is submitted, Apple announced today on its Developer Portal. The change by Apple is an attempt to stop a popular scamming technique that can be used to mislead consumers.

App Store Screenshot Scam

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

Prior to the change in policy, developers were allowed to freely update the screenshots included in the description of their apps in order highlight new features or attempt a new marketing angle. Some developers unfortunately used this ability to upload screenshots from other popular apps as their own after Apple had approved the app with genuine screenshots.

Users, who had no reason to believe that the screenshots displayed in the App Store were not genuine, were then tricked into downloading a fraudulent or unofficial app.

MacRumors identified several examples of this issue, including an unofficial Pokemon game and multiple Minecraft clones. In each case, the unscrupulous developer submitted their initial app with innocuous and generic screenshots that were approved by Apple, and then later switched them to screenshots of apps by other developers.

Apple has usually been quick to identify these fraudulent apps and pull them from the store, but it can almost never act fast enough to prevent at least some customers from falling victim to the scam. Its new policy is therefore aimed at putting an end to the practice entirely.

As mentioned above, developers can still change their apps’ screenshots, but they must submit a new binary to Apple, and thus be subject to App Store approval, in order to do so. Apple has not always caught every bad app during its approval process, but these new policies should significantly reduce the likelihood that developers will be able to mislead and defraud customers.

While Apple’s “walled garden” approach to content on its iOS platform is often criticized, this is one instance where the Cupertino company’s strategy gives it an advantage over completely open app stores with less accountability and safeguards.