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The App Trap: How it Adds Up

By Emily Driscoll

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Apps may seem harmless and helpful, but you may not realize how app collecting can really start to dent your wallet you if you aren't careful.

I know what you're thinking: "Get real, it's a measly two bucks." But two bucks can really start to add up, especially around this time of year when we're being deluged with holiday ads and it's easy to get caught up in the holiday—and mass spending—spirit.

Here's how apps can lead you down a slippery slope of spending and why you should take a long pause before downloading.

How do companies market apps to us so that we spend money?

First of all, apps are directly marketed towards Gen Y's desire to always have the next model, the latest version, the most advanced technology possible. Playing into that mindset, they know exactly how to reel you in and leave you wanting more.

Companies like to build hype around an app even before it launches. Creating teaser videos, releasing sneak peaks to online forums for designers who review and rate apps, and sharing promo codes with members of the media lets them get the word out there before it drops.

Once they've got you buying their apps, another tactic to get you to spend additional money is to create more complex apps for increased "in-app" purchasing, or paying for additional content like "bonus" subscriptions and upgrades in the apps you already have.

According to a survey of over 2000 developers, 50% of them said that in-app purchasing will be their most important strategy in 2012 to get consumers to spend more.

A lot of this added content, such as games with extra levels, is in apps directed at young people. The idea is to condition us to spend money on a whim. It also racks up a bill for the person paying for it.

Some may argue that it's creating more value to the app you already have, but it's just a ploy to make you think you need to "invest" in it—taking money out of your pocket for no good reason.

QR codes: opening the flood gates to spending

Companies are jumping on the Smartphone craze along with everyone else in the marketing world and are using every chance they can get to push their brands at people. One way they're able to get a lot of exposure in a hip, technologically trendy way is through Quick Response codes.

QR codes are square barcodes used by companies to market stuff to consumers. If you haven't already seen them on websites and on advertisements, they will soon be popping up everywhere (billboards, store windows, TV ads, etc.). QR codes of course aren't inherently bad. The FoolProof team even uses them at times. But they do make it easier to overspend.

You access a code-scanning app through the camera on your phone, which directs you towards the company's website and promotional social media pages. Unless it's a consumer group that isn't selling anything, like FoolProof, the QR codes make it easier for you to buy things with no thought and a few clicks.

There are a lot of apps out there that use QR codes so that users can scan them and instantly download them in a matter of seconds.

The accessibility of QR codes isn't only dangerous to your wallet. Because it is now so easy for anyone—including scammers—to create their own codes, malicious QR codes can come with viruses and malware disguised as seemingly legitimate codes.

FoolProof tips:

  • Free or paid: which is safer? There are a multitude of great free apps out there, but consumer types think the chances of downloading a malicious app are greater if they are free. If you're downloading a freebie, make sure you know you're doing it from a legit company. If you don't know the company, don't download the app.
  • We always caution against sharing personal information, especially over the web. Every app collects information on you. Remember that before downloading any app.
  • Many paid apps, like free apps, don't have to be verified by any approval system. Always know your app source. Many times, your spam and virus software will not protect you from the risk of installing an app with a virus. And remember this: the virus may not directly affect your phone but could infect your computer the next time you synch it with your phone.
  • Limit yourself to a monthly app budget figure.

Apps are great, and we all love them. But just make sure your brain is engaged before downloading a new one!

Had a bad app experience? Tell me about it! Email me at