AmpMe accused of boosting app sales through fake reviews by noted App Store critic

AmpMe startup
App maker conceded “more oversight is needed.”

Montréal-based AmpMe has found itself in the crosshairs of the App Store’s “one-man Bunco Squad.”

Kosta Eleftheriou, an American entrepreneur, is alleging that AmpMe has purchased thousands of fake reviews in order to boost the popularity of its music app on the Apple App Store.

In a Twitter thread on January 10 titled ‘How to make $13,000,000 on the App Store,’ Eleftheriou called out AmpMe, alleging that the app maker made it easy to sign on for an auto-renewing subscription that was “much harder to cancel.”

“By accumulating 10,000s of fake reviews over the years, you successfully drown out the real ones.”

Eleftheriou said that the price for the app was an “absurd” $10 a week, adding up to almost $520 annually. He claimed that 90 percent of the reviews for AmpMe’s app were fake.

AmpMe’s music-syncing app allows users to create their own sound system by allowing the same song to play across an unlimited number of devices.

Eleftheriou is not your average Apple App Store consumer. He is a self-styled “professional” App Store critic, and founder of FlickType, an iPhone-turned-Apple Watch keyboard app for blind users.

A serial entrepreneur, Eleftheriou has sold three of his previous ventures to Google, Pinterest, and the Formax Group. The Verge describes Eleftheriou as “a one-man Bunco Squad.”

In his Twitter thread, Eleftheriou alleges that fake reviews have helped power AmpMe to become the 135th highest-grossing app on the AppStore, bringing in over $13 million since 2018.

“By accumulating 10,000s of fake reviews over the years, you successfully drown out the real ones,” he wrote.

An unidentified company spokesperson from AmpMe disputed most of Elefheriou’s complaints. In an email to BetaKit, AmpMe said the claim that most of their users are paying $520 annually “does not reflect reality.”

The app maker wrote: “For example, in 2021, the average user that subscribed and took advantage of our free trial paid a total average of $17. If you take only paying users, the average yearly subscription revenue is about $75. Internally, this has reinforced our belief that AmpMe’s pricing is transparent with clear and easy opt-out procedures.”

AmpMe contended that the free version of its app is the most popular, with the “vast majority” of users not paying. “Given its reception and popularity, AmpMe is a valued app and works as advertised,” the startup wrote.

However, when it came to the question of the reviews, AmpMe conceded that those might be a problem.

“Regarding the reviews, we hear the feedback loud and clear,” the app producer wrote. “Through the years, like most startups, we’ve hired outside consultants to help us with marketing and app store optimization. More oversight is needed and that’s what we are currently working on.”

AmpMe’s CEO Martin-Luc Archambault did not respond to BetaKit’s requests for comment.

In 2016, AmpMe raised $10 million CAD in Series A funding. Relay Ventures led the round, with participation from Investissement Québec, Slaight Music, OMERS Ventures, Townsgate Media, and Real Ventures.

This is not the first time that AmpMe CEO and former Dragon Martin-Luc Archambault has been accused of poor business practices.

A spokesperson from Real Ventures told BetaKit that the VC is no longer involved in the company.

“AmpMe restructured in 2019 where our ownership effectively became zero,” Lisa Séguin, Real Ventures’ director of marketing and people, wrote in an email. “We have not been in touch with the company since. We made a small pre-seed investment in 2016 and haven’t invested any more capital since.”

Neither OMERS Ventures nor Relay Ventures responded to a request for comment by deadline.

This is not the first time that AmpMe CEO and former Dragon Archambault has been accused of poor business practices.

Archambault previously worked as the CEO of Montréal-based startup Wajam from 2009 to 2015. Wajam’s core product was a social search engine that allowed users to search through content from their contacts on social media, and generated revenue through the display of contextual advertising.

In a blog post titled ‘Wajam: From start-up to massively-spread adware,’ WeLiveSecurity by ESET Research wrote about Wajam in 2019. In its post, WeLiveSecurity noted that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OFC) said that the startup used more than 50 Pay-Per-Install providers between 2011 and 2016.

“This model has been criticized several times for its usage of fake Adobe Flash Player, antivirus, and many other popular software installers to deceive the user, and for the heavy presence of adware and malware in the installers provided,” WeLiveSecurity noted.

In 2017, the OFC issued a report identifying several breaches of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), including responsibility, consent, storage limitation, measures security and transparency – and made 12 recommendations aimed at helping the respondent comply with the act.

At that point, WaJam indicated that it was selling its assets, including software, to a Hong Kong-based company, and that its software would no longer be distributed in Canada.

The OFC at that point said that since the assets had been transferred to Hong Kong and that WaJam was unable to put in place the OFC’s recommendations, “we conclude that the concerns relating to liability, consent, retention limitation, security measures and transparency examined in the context of our investigation are well-founded.”

Nor were those the only Wajam woes facing Archambault at the time. In 2015, Olivier Cabanes, then vice-president of Wajam, sued Archambault, claiming the latter was trying to claim more substantial compensation than that to which he would reasonably have been entitled, according to a 2018 story in La Presse.

Cabanes also gave the mandate to KPMG to examine the company’s books. According to La Presse: “In its preliminary findings, released in March 2015, the firm estimated that Mr. Archambault had indeed accumulated more than $800,000 in ‘at-risk expenses.’”

La Presse noted Archambault’s expenses included “the bachelor party of a friend of Mr. Archambault in Ibiza ($23,000); that of his brother in New York ($14,700); a painting, a ping-pong robot and an aromatherapy steam bath (total $19,800); trips to Guadeloupe, the Maldives and elsewhere.”

Archambault and Cabanes ended up settling out of court.

Back in Montréal at AmpMe, the startup informed BetaKit that It has submitted a new version of the app with a lower price to the App Store for review.

“We always adhere to Apple’s subscription guidelines and are continually working to ensure their high standards are met,” AmpMe wrote. “We also respect and value the community’s feedback.”

With files from Joshua Scott.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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