Microsoft should ante up to users for scammed Windows Store apps

Microsoft finally did the right thing by finally ridding the Windows Store of 1,500 scams and copycat apps. But here's one thing it's not yet doing: Actively searching out users who paid for the fraudulent apps and paying them back.

Microsoft yesterday began purging the Windows Store of offending apps. Todd Brix, general manager for the Windows Store, blogged that the company has so far removed 1,500 apps, hinting that more may be removed.

The blog itself didn't go into much detail about why the apps were removed, other than saying Microsoft was removing "titles that do not comply with our modified certification requirements."

That's a mild description of a very serious problem. Recently, the How-To Geek published an investigation into the Windows Store, titled "The Windows Store is a Cesspool of Scams Why Doesnt Microsoft Care?" The article's first two paragraphs sum up the problem succinctly:

"Microsofts Windows Store is a mess. Its full of apps that exist only to scam people and take their money. Why doesnt Microsoft care that their flagship app store is such a cesspool?"

Its now been more than two years since Windows 8 was released, and this has been a problem the entire time, and it is getting worse. If Microsoft was trying to offer a safe app store to Windows users, theyve failed."

The article points out what appeared to be 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, by the way, is free. The article adds, "Search for another popular application like iTunes or Firefox and youll see similar useless garbage applications." The investigation found many fake paid apps for Adobe Flash Player, Firefox, Pandora, IMDB, Candy Crush Saga, Wechat, WhatsApp, uTorrent, Picasa, Bluestacks, Minecraft, Spotify, Google Hangouts, Picasa, Clash of Clans, Blender 3D, and others.

Even though Microsoft has purged 1,500 apps, the problem is far from solved. After the apps were removed, the How-To Geek warned,

"Theres still a lot more scam applications that they havent yet removed, so continue to beware until this mess is fully clean."

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer did some investigating of his own, and writes:

"A quick look at MetroStore Scanner, which tracks each day's new and updated apps, showed that Brix and his team have their work cut out for them. On Tuesday, according to MetroStore Scanner, 12 copies of the free KMPlayer, a media player owned by a Korean TV streaming company, were published to the Windows Store. However, the dozen KMPlayer copies -- all using the transparently copycat name of "KM* 5.1 Player" but each with a different icon -- were priced at either $0.99 or $1.99."

How did the Windows Store get this bad? Microsoft didn't want to see what was in plain sight, because it has been trying to pump up the dismal number of apps in the store, and wants to grow it as quickly as possible. So it opened the floodgates and let in scammers.

What is Microsoft doing in order to refund customers who have been scammed? Not much. Brix writes: in his blog that "We will gladly refund the cost of an app that is downloaded as a result of an erroneous title or description." But he provides no way for people to ask for a refund, and only says that people can report "infringement concerns" to Microsoft via a Web page or by sending an email to reportapp@microsoft.com. But there are no links or email mailboxes where people can specifically ask for refunds.

Microsoft must know who has been scammed, because all payments for the scam apps go through the Windows Store, not directly to the scammers. The company clearly has a way to know which users paid for the apps it's removed from the store. If it wanted to, it could issue refunds to every person who bought one of the offending apps.

That's what it should do. But at this point it's not clear that Microsoft will do the right thing.

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