August 27, 2014 3:52 pm

How we’re addressing misleading apps in Windows Store

As Windows Store expands to reach more customers in more markets with a growing list of great titles, we are continuously looking for ways to improve both customer experience and developer opportunity. We strive to give our worldwide customer base easy access to amazing app experiences while keeping developer friction to a minimum. From time-to-time this process slips out of sync and we need to recalibrate.

Every app store finds its own balance between app quality and choice, which in turn opens the door to people trying to game the system with misleading titles or descriptions. Our approach has long been to create and enforce strong but transparent policies to govern our certification and store experience. Earlier this year we heard loud and clear that people were finding it more difficult to find the apps they were searching for; often having to sort through lists of apps with confusing or misleading titles. We took the feedback seriously and modified the Windows Store app certification requirements as a first step toward better ensuring that apps are named and described in a way that doesn’t misrepresent their purpose. These changes included:

  • Naming – to clearly and accurately reflect the functionality of the app.
  • Categories – to ensure apps are categorized according to the app function and purpose.
  • Icons – must be differentiated to avoid being mistaken with others.

These revised policies are being applied to all new app submissions and existing app updates for both the Windows and Windows Phone Store. We’ve also been working on titles already in the catalog, conducting a review of Windows Store to identify titles that do not comply with our modified certification requirements. This process is continuing as we work to be as thorough and transparent as possible in our review. 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 (as always we will gladly refund the cost of an app that is downloaded as a result of an erroneous title or description – customers can visit Windows Support and Windows Phone Support to contact Microsoft about a refund.)

The Store review is ongoing and we recognize that we have more work to do, but we’re on it. We’re applying additional resources to speed up the review process and identify more problem apps faster. No approach is perfect, so we encourage people to report any issues they may encounter with Windows Store. For most issues, customers can use the “report concern to Microsoft” link in the Store. For infringements concerns, people can use our online tools or email directly.

We remain as committed as ever to delivering a great customer experience AND expanding the developer opportunity through fair and transparent policies.

Updated November 7, 2014 11:26 pm

Join the conversation

  1. This is a great initiative. I have seen several apps that say something but do something else. Some apps require so many permissions, despite being almost static apps which is always suspicious. Microsoft should have started this process from the beginning itself. However, back then, it would have only added to number of days it took to publish an app to a store that had apps you can count on fingers as compared to now where your apps are published in hours despite the huge jump in number.

  2. Lets hope that this works because the current situation in the app store is worse than it has ever been. In the name of more apps and some convenience for the developer (faster publish times) you managed to make the store worse place than the Android one and I say this as a developer with multiple apps in the store.

  3. This was about time.
    I’ve complained about the “FREE Video Opener” which firstly is not a Windows RT app, then tries to install the AskSam toolbar, then leads to a page holding crapware blocked by CSIS Secure DNS ( )
    What positive use could this ever be for?

    The answer from Microsoft Support was just a chit-chat.
    If users don’t have confidence in the quality of apps at Windows Store, its momentum is lost. That’s a pity as the idea behind Windows Store is good – it should be as easy to install an app on your desktop as on your phone. Thus, desktop applications cannot be omitted completely, they should as a minimum be labelled Desktop Applications, not apps.

  4. I still see 116 results when I type “vlc” in Windows 8.1 Store Search.
    This is way too many. I would expect to see the official VLC app, and perhaps a few companion apps, that is it. I hope this process will start to thwart out all the fake and money-grabber apps that leverage off existing brands.

  5. But per the original article which raised this issue (, all app which were previously removed had been certified for compliance with Microsoft policies.

    So re: the 1,500 apps which have been removed, why were Microsoft testers happy to approve apps which has misleading names, categories or icons (i.e. the ones which fail the new policies)?

    1) You were previously happy to actively approve misleading apps and are only changing policies now the problem has been pointed out.
    2) Your testing process was negligant (which raises a wider question about what other non-compliant content/malware they were letting slip through the net!)

    Would be curious to know which of the two above is the case, or if there is another alternative that has escaped me…

  6. Hi Todd, I have recent experience (in the last month) of reporting fake apps (a number of “DVD playback” apps in the app store) using the online reporting tools. The feedback from Microsoft Support was to report it to the app developer – I hope that your support organisation has been instructed that this is no longer an acceptable response. I have the emails and support references if you want to follow up with me by email.

    That these clearly fake apps managed to get through Microsoft’s testing process and into the store says that the testing process is (or at least was) very broken – if the app doesn’t even do what it says it does in the app name, how did it ever get approved in the first place?

    • You’re not referring to some of the 60+ identical Video players by Digital Technologies LLC, by any chance? These have been reported by lots of users before.

    • Hi Todd, I’ve just reported two apps in the Windows Store that were either missed or have been added since your last cull, which purport to be DVD Player apps in their titles, but don’t play back DVDs. I’ll let you know what response I get.

    • So, reported two apps 2 days ago for pretending to be DVD playback apps, which they aren’t. They are still in the store 2 days later. This is the email I got from Microsoft Support:
      Thank you for contacting Microsoft Support.

      We acknowledge your concerns about the App and want to assure you that we are currently working on revised policies to be applied to all new and existing Apps.

      We do however encourage you to report any issues you may encounter with Windows Store by using the “Report concern to Microsoft” link in the store or for infringement concerns you can use directly.

      So no change so far.

  7. This is about time – but to get to the buttom of this, you need to drastically simplify your process for reporting apps in the Store. Pressing the report link and filling out the two fields seems nice and easy – until you get an e-mail informing you that Microsoft needs more information. This e-mail also contains a link to an enormous, 4-step form, which you then have to fill out. I doubt that even 1 % of people ever fill out that form. I certainly haven’t – every time I have reported an app for obvious rule-breaking like using the name of legitimate apps, I get that e-mail. I click the link and I just look at that form. Then I close that tab. This process needs to be MUCH easier.

    • I agree with Asbjorn and Georgina Nicol.

      I actually tried to highlight a number of VLC-related applications; primarily because they were misleading in nature (either they were instructions on how to install VLC rather than the VLC application itself) and often charged people for the pleasure. VLC is not a paid-for app.

      I reported the apps as a breach of IPR but when the email from MS came through asking me to confirm the infringement I couldn’t take it any further (not being a representative of the group involved).

      Despite wanting to help prevent other people spending money on misleading apps there was no category for flagging an app in this scenario. Its understandable that there be a lengthy questionnaire – at least to put off trolls and malicious reports wasting everyones time – but there should be a channel for reporting / policing potential abuse going forward.

  8. You have customers who tell you clearly which apps are fake, and which developers are scammers. It’s very easy to spot things like fake reviews for paid apps because the developers don’t even bother to hide it. The way I experienced it, these customer reports are dismissed and not addressed. This did not change in the last couple of weeks. So as far as I am concerned this blog post is lip service. Anyone could find 1500 fake apps and delete them in the store, within a couple hours.

  9. These are good practices, but i think that you should take into account that when an app that is venturing out from other platforms, they are allowed to retain their app name and icon even though some app provider has written a placebo app and has not updated for 6 months or more. We as a community need to welcome apps from other platforms as this will attract other users and increase the currently waiting market share, which is most likely due to the lack of features in current or the lack of popular apps themselves.

  10. How do you plan to get developer buy in if the certification process is a moving target? Economically, it seems like an acceptable risk for a scamware developer since the amount of investment they’re making is minimal. What about small to mid sized developers where bringing a quality application to the Windows Store is a major investment? What guarantee is there that the certification process isn’t going to change tomorrow and get them excluded from the store?

    Google has figured out a good balance with the Play Store and unrestricted side-loading. They created a curated store that acts as the sole point of distribution for the vast majority of applications while guaranteeing no one is arbitrarily excluded from the platform. The visibility from being in the Play Store is valuable and getting on the Play Store is ultimately the goal. However, the guarantee of being able to deploy is priceless. The Windows Store should be used as a tool to provide visibility to high quality applications, not as a gateway where a developer needs Microsoft’s blessing for their application to even exist.

    Until there’s a guaranteed way of side-loading apps without Microsoft’s blessing, I don’t see how sane developers can rely on the Windows Store as a distribution platform. Until then, low investment, high ROI (aka exploitative) applications are the only ones that make economic sense. Small to mid sized developers already can’t afford the monetary risk of developing a high quality application for a platform with minimal market penetration. The non-guarantees when it comes to distribution are simply adding fuel to the fire.

    My 2 cents.

    • I’m not sure where your statement that “I don’t see how sane developers can rely on the Windows Store” comes from. As a small developer, the last thing I want to see is the ability for people to side-load Windows Store apps. I want the process to be friction-free from discovery to purchase, and safe for end-users so that they don’t worry about downloading and buying my apps. If people get scammed out of their money because of dubious quality apps in the store, they are less likely to trust the whole ecosystem and buy less of my stuff.

      The current estimate (August 2014) is that almost 9 percent of all Android apps are infected with malware, mostly from third party app stores, so having the flexibility to install apps from “non-official” places brings a risk level that I don’t want to see (again) in the Windows ecosystem.

      • > As a small developer, the last thing I want to see is the ability for people to side-load Windows Store apps.

        I guess you have to decide whether or not having your applications in the Windows Store adds enough value to offset the risk that one day it might be your apps getting rejected. Outright rejection isn’t the only risk either. The point I was trying to make is that the rules are arbitrary and can be changed by Microsoft at any time.

        It doesn’t necessarily have to be nefarious on Microsoft’s side either. What if you’re developing line of business apps and ignore Microsoft’s design guidelines to model some business process? If Microsoft decides to start rejecting applications that don’t strictly adhere to their design guidelines is that good or bad? The answer is, it depends. It’s probably good for the average user since they get a more consistent experience, but it’s bad for you (and your customers) because all of a sudden you’re locked out of the platform and don’t have any options to fall back on. At least with unrestricted side-loading you have a viable out.

        Then you have things like iTether on the iPhone. I’m sure that small developer has a much different viewpoint regarding closed platforms 🙂

        • And there is the problem in a nutshell – you are using the banning of one type of app to suggest that another type of app will therefore be banned, which it won’t. The reason that iTether was banned was that it used undocumented APIs which is not something that Apple allows – this wouldn’t have come as a surprise to the developer, in the same way that it didn’t come as a surprise to the IT press at the time. The real surprise was that it got into the store in the first place.

          So, for line of business apps, so long as you don’t use undocumented APIs in your app, and don’t make your app do something that you know it shouldn’t do, then you won’t get locked out of the platform. This really is just a FUD argument – if you have examples of LOB apps that have been banned from the store, I’d love to hear them.

          Finally, if you are developing line of business apps that model a specific business process, you are working in a corporate environment, and *can* side-load your apps onto devices owned by your company using PowerShell or DISM.

          • I don’t think it’s FUD. If you build an application for iOS or WinRT there’s absolutely no guarantee (that I’m aware of) that you’ll be able to deploy your application to an iDevice or a Windows device. Even the side-loading is controlled by Microsoft and Apple and, the last time I checked, both appear to restrict side-loading in various ways.

            Just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with having an app store where the certification process changes. That’s a necessary evil if you want to do the best possible job of curating apps for end users. The thing I have a problem with is having that as the only distribution option.

            The best of both worlds would be if I could spin up a private app store on Azure that handles all the complexity of distribution, updates, payment processing, etc., but also allowed me to publish anything I want. Obviously those apps would be excluded from the Windows Store, but I could integrate my private app store with my website and independently promote my apps.

            Something like that would even be useful for desktop apps.

          • Can’t reply to your last reply for some reason – no reply button.

            You need to look up the definition of FUD – two examples from Wikipedia: “FUD is a manifestation of the appeal to fear”, “unfavorable opinions and speculation”.

            There’s no guarantee that you can deploy an application to any platform – it’s just as possible that Google lock out everyone from side loading apps and using alternative app stores as a way of rebuilding the trust in their app ecosystem and stamping out on the viruses that plague Android for anyone who wants a Google Play certified device. But that’s more FUD.

            I don’t have a problem with your idea of you creating an entire store infrastructure for yourself – you can do that already for Windows applications if you want to. If you really wanted to do that for Windows Runtime apps too, I don’t see why not as long as people could easily differentiate between the trusted environment provided by Microsoft and the third party environment provided by you. This is the important part – the opportunity of the Windows Store is to provide a safe environment for people to download apps without having to worry about their source, and in a friction-free transaction.

    • I agree. Writing apps and add-ins is such a risk as you never know if it will be the way Micromanage (Microsoft) want it done and if it isn’t then it gets rejected. In the old days developers wrote what ever they wanted and sold it however they wanted to. These app stores are too controlling. They aren’t the answer.

  11. Thats great!!

    But many users waiting for ”dutch version” of Facebook app for Windows 8.1!
    Hopefully can create they this fast as possible! 🙂

  12. Too little, too late as usual Windows Phone… I am an avid developer since the very beginning of Windows Phone. I just unpublished all of my apps and canceled all my developer accounts with Microsoft. If you want high quality apps or developers on your platform in the future you will have to kiss my ass and pay me dearly. Good luck.

  13. What you guys need to do is fire your marketing department before you do all this, because no matter what you do or improve on, the public won’t know it. I don’t know how many I’ve talked to about what my phone and Surface Pro 3 can do, and how my information syncs across to my desktop, and they had absolutely no idea. All they think is Apple and Android because all that is common knowledge on the street. Do you know what’s on the street about Microsoft? That you’re a joke and everything about you sucks. Even the phone stores are portraying that, particularly “nobody wants Windows Phone” or “they don’t have any apps”, “get an IPhone or an Android because they’re just better”. And you might be interested to know that just about every Microsoft display I’ve seen in a store has devices missing, turned off, broken, etc. Yes, physically broken. Or on and not working, sitting at a login screen that they haven’t set a password to. Seriously.

    Your incompetent marketing department is why Home Server and Media Center didn’t do well. Because MOST people didn’t even know about it! Just before Windows 8 was released, a guy I knew at work came up to me and literally asked me, “is it true that Windows can record TV and I can save those recordings?” And how many years had Media Center been around? Freaking astonishing. Within a year after iPhone came out, everybody knew about it and what it could do. I’ve been a Microsoft guy for 28 years, and I know what your stuff can do. But to 90% of the public you look like a joke, and Steven Sinofsky pretty much single handedly shot the Windows Desktop market. You could come up with the greatest device ever, and I happen to think the Surface Pro 3 is close, but it won’t sell because everybody automatically thinks Microsoft sucks and won’t waste the effort to see if it really is. THAT’S HOW BAD YOU GUYS LOOK. The ONLY thing keeping you guys in business right now is Azure, and Windows/Office in the enterprise. Because the way it stands now you have no chance at prying the 20-somethings from their Androids.

    My personal example: My oldest son, who’s 27, went to upgrade his phone the other day, which was a Galaxy S4. Because he knows I’m a Microsoft guy, he asked for a Windows Phone. They didn’t have one. Not ONE? They probably lied to him. He walked out of the store with a Galaxy S5. This was a golden opportunity to convert an Android user because you had an advocate like me, and your incompetence allowed Verizon to save the day for Android.

    And this makes me feel like an idiot. Because here I am telling people about Windows Phone and Surface and OneDrive and Office 365 because I want this ecosystem to succeed because I have enough invested in it, but you’re just stabbing me in the back. There are 3 people at work looking at the Surface Pro 3 because of me. But you know what? I really don’t care what they buy. You’ll just find a way to screw it up, like push an update that breaks wireless, and make me look like an idiot again.

    If you value anything you’re doing with the app store, I highly recommend that you capture my post and give it to some VP that might be interested. Because I’m here to tell you, you are working on an app store for an ecosystem that means nothing to 95% of those on the street and is the butt of jokes in the retail outlets. If you don’t believe me, then by all means continue driving yourselves into the ground and I’ll just convert to Apple. It’s not like I haven’t owned an iPhone, iPad and a MAC Book Pro before.

  14. In the Windows Phone store, the “Report a concern to Microsoft” link returns: 404 not found. If we could ensure users have a quick and easy way to flag apps for internal review and strengthen the requirements to publish, we could churn thru this with relative ease over time.

  15. News of a less than stellar approval process has spooked me. I no longer trust that MS has properly authenticated apps prior to entry into the store. Unless the app is signed by a reputable & recognizable public company, I won’t download it.

    I simply cannot believe that MS would jeopardize the integrity of its name and the trust of its customers for the sake of volume. I do not accept the excuse that this is a “new store” with growing pains. MS knows better. MS has breached my trust (and I assume that I am not alone); it will not easily be regained.

  16. How about apps that show fraudulent ads? (and respective ad networks that host such?)

    Windows Phone 7.x first versions were pretty safe to pass to your kid or suggest to an elder person or a user with not much experience, then you get a flood of freemium ad-based apps with crap ads of the style “you got a virus”, or “you got a message” (using facebook colors etc. to trick you) etc.

    there should be a mechanism to report ads in order to be taken down and ad networks that don’t have such shouldn’t be allowed in my opinion

  17. Hi all!

    I have a question for community and Microsoft’s employees.

    I’m working on an application which I’m going to sell as all app with one price and some parts of this app with different prices. For example book reader which can read different file formats and readers for each file format, In the same way video/audio codecs – one player which supports different formats and players for each format, different content aggregators, social network clients, etc..

    What is the Microsoft Store’s limitations for this business cases?! What is your opinion?


  18. Today is 5/25/2015 so… This post is great. YES. This post is 9 months old. YES. But… this is what happens to me YESTERDAY… 9 months later when trying to notify and ilegal application in the store. NINE MONTHS LATER of the begging of this process.

    Unfortunelly I wrote the whole article in spanish so you shoud use Bing translate to understand what is happened:

    Summary in english? I discover Slack for Team app. It cost 5 Euros where the Slack client is free at all the rest of app stores of other operating systems. Then I realice it was a fake app. Then I tried to notify Microsoft about that. Then…. MICROSOFT THREAT ME WITH LEGAL ACTIONS BECAUSE THE FORM I USED TO NOTIFY!!!! WTF??!?!?!?!

    You know what Microsoft? English is not my mother language. I was just trying to help. I was just trying to help other users to avoid paying 5 Euros for nothing. And you reward me like that? Saying you could take me into Court? To me instead the guy placing that app in the Store? Really?

    So I will never ever try to notify any problem in the Store. Screw you Micro$oft. Sue me if you need to. I’m broke anyway.

    I feel bad… used… I feel spanked while trying to help. FU

  19. So, looks like Todd lied to us. More than a year later the windows store is still full of shovel-wares and fake apps. I personally reported a lot of fake apps to Microsoft, guess how many of those are still on the Windows Store? All of them. Microsoft doesn`t give a crap about you, after you paid for their product.
    I have a LUMIA 640 XL, and I really liked this phone and the operating system, but now, I`m switching back to Android. At least Google Play has at least some quality control.