Did Microsoft help seed the market for Windows Store scam apps?

MIcrosoft may have been part of the problem from the very beginning.

Microsoft has finally begun cleaning out the Windows Store by killing 1,500 scams and copycat apps. But by turning the other way when bad apps were uploaded, and maybe even paying for them, Microsoft was part of the problem.

Among the 1,500 killed apps are many scams, such as a $4.99 "VLC Player Download," which is not a download, and merely points you to download the VLC Player, which is free. Before the Microsoft crackdown, the How-To Geek published an investigation of the store, finding:

"Microsoft’s Windows Store is a mess. It’s full of apps that exist only to scam people and take their money. Why doesn’t Microsoft care that their flagship app store is such a cesspool?"

Microsoft has started cleaning out that "cesspool." Todd Brix, general manager for the Windows Store, blogged that Microsoft has removed 1,500 apps, and implied that more may be killed as well.

But Microsoft hasn't been an innocent bystander as its Windows Store filled with scams and junk. In a way, it's been an active participant. From the very beginning, the Windows Store had a serious app problem -- there simply wasn't enough of them. In the early days of the Windows Store, I wrote that it:

"...seems as barren of goods as a Romanian grocery store during the depths of the Ceausescu regime."

Microsoft knew that it had to bulk up the Windows Store, and so it set out to get as many apps into it as quickly as possible. So back in the early part of 2013 it launched a promotion in which it paid $100 to developers for apps they sent to the Windows Store, regardless of quality or type of app. Each developer could get up to $200.

That's certainly an incentive for a shady developer to make a quick few hundred dollars. It's not clear whether any of that money paid for scam apps, but it gave notice to the world that Microsoft was looking to get apps in bulk into the store.

Worse still, Microsoft employees installed and reviewed every one of the scam apps, and certified that they were good enough to be in the store. The How-To Geek uncovered a Web page describing the way in which Microsoft checks each app before the app is allowed to be made public in the store. The page says that as part of the certification process:

"Our certification testers install and review your app to test it for content compliance. The amount of time this takes varies depending on how complex your app is, how much visual content it has, and how many apps have been submitted recently."

How did so many scams and so much junk get by Microsoft's "certification testers?" That's something that only Microsoft can answer. But there's no doubt that Microsoft's rush to get big numbers into the store is to blame.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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