Microsoft launched Windows 8 with a new Windows Store full of “metro” apps. Though intended to compete with the App Store and Google Play, it was spoiled by useless junkware, scams and apps that blatantly ripped off popular brands, including some owned by Microsoft.
The store has improved over time and Microsoft purged many fake apps, but it still features many questionable apps that are either redundant with Windows features, of poor quality, or charge for service that should be free. Here’s how to avoid getting scammed.
Keep An Eye On The Developer
Apps that mimic a well-known brand are popular on every app store in existence. Under-handed developers know that if they throw YouTube, Media Player or Twitter in the title, they’re bound to fool a small fraction of the people who assume their third-party app is the official solution.
That’s why you should always keep an eye on who made what you’re about to download. You can find this listed under “Published by” below the screenshot preview every app on the Windows Store provides. The developer should make sense for the source; an Amazon app shouldn’t be published by SoftwareShack, Inc.
You might wonder – what’s the harm? It’s well known that some of the best mobile Twitter apps aren’t made by Twitter itself, for example, so third-party apps can make sense. That is true, but it’s also the exception to the rule. When in doubt, use a search engine to see if the developer has a web page and has released any other apps (and if so, what they are). That should help you figure out if the company behind an app can be trusted.
Don’t Pay For What’s Free
Even apps that seem harmless can turn out to be questionable. For example, one of the most popular apps in the store’s Entertainment section is Tube Free. This app provides a metro-style interface for YouTube (Google has no official “metro” app) which can be useful. But the app asks you to pay $2.99 if you’d like to sign in to your account.
That’s a rip off. YouTube is a service that’s entirely free to use. Tube Free is nothing more than a skin, and while it might be useful on some Windows 8 tablets, it’s pointless on anything with a touchpad or mouse. The app makes money by luring in users with a popular brand name and then prompting them to pay small fee. Some people are bound to say yes.
Similar situations can be found with apps for Facebook, Twitter and other free services. There was even an app for Twitter that was $99 which almost certainly existed exclusively to fool people who misread its $99.99 price tag as $.99 or $9.99. Ironically, most of the legitimate third-party developers that build apps actually worth paying for (like Tweetbot) aren’t on the Windows Store at all.
Be Skeptical Of User Reviews
Tube Free also shows why user reviews can’t be relied on. The app is extremely well reviewed despite its relatively basic feature set and the fact it charges for a service you can use for free through your web browser. According to the Windows Store the app is better than the free version of AutoCad, the official Twitter app and games like Halo: Spartan Assault.
That’s…not likely, is it? But the app asks users to review the app before it’s even used, so it’s inevitable that it’ll receive a lot of reviews, most of which have a better than average reaction. It’s YouTube. People love YouTube. And some of the people grabbing Free Tube probably think it’s the official app.
Let this be a lesson about the problems with user reviews. They’re easy to manipulate and don’t always reflect the quality of the user experience, but instead the quality of the first ten minutes or even the user’s perception of how good the app is going to be. Worse, Microsoft doesn’t take action against apps with manipulative review policies. You should rely on professional reviews, either of the Windows Store app specifically or of apps by the same developer on other platforms.
Check The Permissions
Permissions! Don’t you love them? A nice list of everything an app wants access to, conveniently stored in one place so you can easily ignore it all. The Windows Store is even worse in this regard than most because, unlike Android, it doesn’t prompt you with a warning telling you the permissions required. Instead there’s only a tiny warning below the install/purchase button.
Windows 8 hasn’t suffered a permissions “smoking gun” thus far; apps seem to be behaving well enough. However, certain apps do ask to access potentially personal information, such as your photos. Usually, this is for legitimate reasons, but there’s no reason why an app couldn’t slip through and sneak permissions it does not need. And, if that were to happen, it could be a serious fiasco.
Checking what permissions an app asks for is something you should do on every platform with a permission system. It’s just that Windows 8 makes app permissions less obvious than most, and thus requires extra care.
Watch Out For Security Scamware (Or Just Don’t Buy From The Store)
Fake security software has plagued Windows for over a decade. You’d think Microsoft would take special care to ensure the problem didn’t leak over to the Windows Store, but instead the company has ignored the issue. The Windows Store is filled with gobs of totally worthless security apps.
You’ll need to exercise maximum skepticism if you plan to buy antivirus software from the official store. There are imposter apps that look like those from other companies. There are no-name apps that don’t seem to scan for anything at all. And there are so-called apps that actually do nothing but recommend other apps you should buy. It’s a real mess.
In fact, you’re probably better off buying security software from a well-known retailer or direct from the developer. There’s too many gotchas involved with the official store and even legitimate apps often have fewer features than desktop software from the same company. Why risk it?
The Windows Store has cleaned up its act a bit since launch. Fakeware no longer dominates the free and paid app recommendations of each category, at least, so that’s an improvement. But Microsoft still has a long way to go. There’s a ton of useless and downright deceiving apps, some of which have the gall to charge unsuspecting users.
You can help Microsoft clean up the store by reporting apps that infringe on copyright or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you ever been fooled by an app on the Windows Store? Let us know in the comments.