So part of my Monday routine is to take a look at the previous week’s app downloads and purchases. Typically it’s pretty stable, with different apps having seasonal swings. Our Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives app has a pop every Friday and Saturday after a new episode of the show airs and sells better during the summer than the winter (as fans of the show are vacationing or going on road trips).

We have a number of minor apps we did for clients or ourselves as experiments or proof of concept that have very minor downloads typically. Any week where they have more than 5 downloads is noticeable. So imagine my surprise when I found this spike in downloads:

app sales chart

We went from an average of 150 downloads a day to 1000 or more. The top 10 apps went from 442 downloads in the previous 7 days to 2,683 total downloads.

sales surge chart 2

The initial response is one of “did we get featured somewhere we didn’t know about”? The front page of Tech Crunch or Reddit? But a number of these apps we don’t have on our website as a portfolio example, or even in a list of apps we’ve done. So almost impossible to be that.

Then I noticed that it’s only our free apps. In all of the huge download increases, our best-selling Diners app actually went down in sales during the same period. And it’s none of the apps that are available only in the US (our Bud Butler app guide to marijuana stores didn’t pop).

So off to Apple Analytics:

app analytics chart

App impressions were up and down. Our Starbucks Secret Menu App impressions were up 15%, but downloads were up 70%. Wineries of Sonoma impressions down 19%, but downloads up 165%.

Two apps normally with downloads in the 1-5 a week range, suddenly had had more than 200 downloads in a couple of days, giving them a 1000%+ increase.

Clicking through to the Overview page for the Starbucks Secret Menu app gave it way.

starbucks secret menu app overview download chart


Two hundred and sixty-one downloads from China. And each app that spiked had about the same increase, between 225 and 260 unusual downloads from China, all at the same time. Even highly local Northern California apps for restaurants or local regions that no one in China would even know about (Beach Hut Deli anyone?). Add in that it’s a cluster of our apps, not all of them sort of makes me wonder if someone just found the first one, and then tapped the “Other Apps by this Developer” and selected the next 15 apps to download.

So as a guess, someone is setting up a new pay-for-review shop and needed to add a bunch of signal to new iPhones. Lots of random US apps to make the accounts look “natural” and then sneak in paid reviews to other apps they download later.

We also wondered if we’d get extortion emails later, threatening to leave bad reviews on these apps if we didn’t pay someone. This has only been going on for 3 days so far, so I’m interested in seeing what happens tomorrow as well.

Any other suggestions or ideas? Is this happening to anyone else?


Subscribefor app updates and news

Subscribefor app updates and news

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!