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The app development industry has exploded in recent years, and its growth is expected to accelerate. Companies of all sizes are rushing to build their own apps in order to stay competitive and meet the demands of their customers, and have often reached out to development agencies to build something quickly. Unfortunately, amidst this growth and excitement, a number of unethical practices have become too common in the industry.
At Twin Sun, we’ve seen firsthand the unethical practices used in several agencies. From misleading clients about their capabilities to confusing pricing models that lead to higher than expected project costs, these practices can have serious consequences for both clients and the industry as a whole. In fact, several of us at Twin Sun left previous app development jobs due to our firsthand experience with these unethical practices. We’ve also heard horror stories from our clients about their own experiences with their former developers, such as our first client who spent hundreds of dollars with another agency and had very little to show for it.
That’s why we started Twin Sun: we wanted to create a company that always does what’s right by our clients and our employees. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the unethical practices that are unfortunately all too common in the app development industry. We’ll examine the scope of the problem and discuss the impact these practices have on clients, users, and the industry as a whole. We’ll also explore the potential consequences of continuing to allow these practices to go unchecked and suggest steps that the industry can take to address and rectify them. It’s time for the app development industry to clean up its act, and we hope this blog post will help shed light on the need for change.
Unethical practices in the app development industry
Unethical practices in the app development industry can take many forms and can have serious consequences. Some common unethical practices include:
Misleading clients about their capabilities or experience: Agencies may exaggerate their level of expertise or the types of projects they have worked on in order to win business. This can lead to clients hiring an agency that is not qualified to handle their project, resulting in subpar work or even project failure.
Bait-and-switch contracts: Clients may be lured in by low initial quotes or special offers, only for the agency to significantly increase the price later on in the project due to “unforeseen circumstances” or “additional work required.” This can leave clients feeling frustrated and misled, and can lead to project delays or budget overruns.
Confusing pricing models: Similarly, some app development companies may use confusing or opaque pricing models that are difficult for clients to understand. This can result in clients being unaware of the full cost of their project, leading to unexpected expenses or budget overruns.
Misleading clients about their location: Some companies may claim to be located in a certain country or region in order to appeal to clients, but may actually outsource work to other countries or regions where labor is cheaper. This can lead to communication and cultural barriers, as well as difficulties with time zones and project management. Even within the United States, agencies will lay claim to a presence in several major cities for SEO purposes, without having an actual or meaningful presence in those cities.
Misleading clients about the nature of “near shoring”: Some app development companies use a “near shoring” model, where they outsource work to countries in the same region as the client, as a way to offer lower costs and reduce communication barriers. However, you will often experience the same issues as traditional overseas outsourcing despite the agency’s promise to have on-shore project managers that “keep things in check.”
Misrepresenting their work: Account managers might prioritize client management over project management, spending more time on activities such as status meetings and progress reports rather than actual development work. This can lead to the appearance of progress as the team is “busy” or “working very hard,” but in reality very little meaningful work may be getting done. Companies may also focus on activity rather than progress, leading to an emphasis on small, incremental tasks rather than larger, more impactful work.
Cutting corners in development: In order to meet deadlines or cut costs, some app development companies may cut corners in the development process. This can include ignoring edge cases or hiding problems rather than fixing them, using subpar materials or libraries, or skimping on testing and quality assurance. These practices can result in buggy, unreliable apps that create a poor user experience.
Vendor lock-in: Agencies often wish to build their own products or services that bring in recurring revenue. They may create proprietary code or services that they integrate into clients’ apps to kick-start their products, or even use the client’s development resources and budget to fund their proprietary work. Unscrupulous agencies may also try to retain ownership over your developer accounts to exert control over client products. This can make it impossible for clients to switch to a different app development company or to make changes to their own apps.
Misleading contractual obligations: Some app development companies may include misleading or unclear contractual obligations in their agreements with clients. This can include hidden fees, long-term contracts with automatic renewals, or license terms that permit the agency to use your intellectual property for their own purposes. These obligations can leave clients feeling trapped or taken advantage of, and can make it difficult for you to hold the app development company accountable for their work.
Prioritizing activity over progress: As mentioned earlier, some companies will prioritize client management over project management, spending more time on activities such as status meetings and progress reports rather than actual development work. This lack of focus on the overall project goals can delay actual progress towards the product roadmap, delaying your app’s release and inflating your timeline and budget.
These are the most common unethical practices we have seen in the app development industry. It’s important for the industry to address these practices in order to restore trust and protect the reputation of the industry.
The scope of the problem
The impact of these unethical practices on clients can be significant. For one, it can cost clients a great deal of money if they fall victim to bait-and-switch contracts or confusing pricing models. In some cases, clients may end up paying for services or products that are of poor quality or that don’t meet their needs, leading to frustration and disappointment. Some app development companies may also invent their own libraries or services as part of their work building an app for their client, in the hope that they can monetize these libraries or services and build their own products on the client’s dime. These practices can damage the trust that clients have in the app development process and make them less likely to work with app development companies in the future.
The impact on users can be equally significant. If app development companies cut corners in the development process or use subpar materials, the end result can be apps that are buggy, unreliable, or that don’t meet the needs of users. This can lead to a poor user experience and harm the reputation of the client’s company.
Finally, these practices can damage the entire industry. The app development industry is built on trust. Unethical practices erode that trust and damage the reputation of the entire industry. This can make it harder for ethical app development companies to attract clients. An absence of trust can also lead to more rigorous project requirements and inflexible contracts that prioritize protecting the client from a malicious agency over enabling good agencies to build the best product possible for their client. The app development industry must address these practices in order to restore trust and protect the reputation of the industry.
The consequences of inaction
If the app development industry continues to allow unethical practices to go unchecked, it could face a number of serious consequences. One potential consequence is a decline in demand for new apps. As companies come to distrust the app development industry, they may be more hesitant to invest in new app projects. Instead, they may look to build their own internal development teams (perhaps at a much greater cost) in order to avoid the pitfalls of working with the unknowns of a new agency. This decline in demand could have a negative impact on the industry as a whole.
Another potential consequence is a decline in user satisfaction with apps. Trends show that people are already becoming fatigued with the sheer number of apps available and are looking for fast, seamless mobile experiences that don’t require installing more apps. If app development companies continue to produce poor quality apps that disappoint users, it could lead to a decline in the use of apps overall. This could have serious consequences for businesses that rely on app revenue and for the app development industry as a whole.
The app development industry can protect its own future and the interests of all parties involved by taking action to address unethical practices. Working to restore trust and improve the quality of apps will ensure the industry successfully delivers to the satisfaction of its clients and users.
Steps the industry can take to clean up its act
The app development industry is not the first to face a problem with unethical practices. Many of these practices used to plague other industries. Construction companies and financial services companies have both faced similar problems in the past, and have taken steps to address these issues through a combination of self improvement and government regulation. App development agencies can apply the lessons learned from those industries to address these issues.
A good first step is to establish clear industry standards and best practices. This could include guidelines for pricing, contracts, and communication with clients, as well as standards for the development process itself. By establishing these standards, app development companies can ensure that they are transparent and fair with their clients and that they are delivering high quality products.
Agencies should also encourage greater accountability within the industry. This could include establishing mechanisms for reporting unethical practices and holding companies accountable when they engage in unethical behavior. We can also educate clients about how to recognize and avoid unethical practices. By encouraging accountability, the industry can ensure that individual companies are held responsible for their actions and that clients are better protected.
Adopting practices used in other more regulated industries can improve transparency and accountability. For example, the construction industry has long had to deal with issues like bid rigging and fraudulent billing. To address these issues, independent third-party reviewers and inspectors are now frequently employed to provide accountability to construction companies. These third parties provide an unbiased assessment of construction projects and help ensure that they are completed in accordance with industry standards and regulations. App development clients can use independent third-party reviewers to provide an unbiased assessment of app development projects and ensure that they are completed in accordance with industry standards and best practices. We’ve had a few clients take this approach with us, and we have offered this service to clients who work with other development companies.
In addition to adopting practices from other regulated industries, the app development industry should instill a culture of ethics and professionalism. Efforts such as education and training on ethical practices for agency employees would be a good start. This could include training on how to recognize and avoid unethical practices, as well as training on how to communicate with clients in a professional and transparent manner. By building a culture of ethics, the industry can ensure that unethical practices are not tolerated and that app development professionals are held to high standards of conduct.
How to work with app development agencies in the meantime
As a client, you can protect yourself from unethical app development agencies if you know what to watch for. Here are a few tips for ensuring that you have a positive experience while working with an app development agency:
Do your research. Before choosing an app development agency, take the time to research their reputation and track record. Read online reviews, ask for references, and check to see if they have any industry certifications or awards. This will give you a good sense of their level of expertise and their commitment to ethical practices. If an agency has no existing clients willing to speak to you about their experience with the agency, you should search for a different agency.
Clarify your expectations and needs. Make sure to clearly communicate your project goals, budget, and timeline to the app development agency. This will help them understand your needs and ensure that they are the right fit for your project. The right agency should demonstrate that they understand your needs, through followup conversations, proposals, or technical specifications.
Ask for a detailed proposal. Request a detailed proposal from the app development agency outlining their approach, timeline, and pricing for your project. This will give you a better understanding of what to expect from the project and help you compare proposals from different agencies. This doesn’t mean an agency should always give you a fixed price proposal. In fact, we shy away from fixed price agreements for large projects because they often create a false sense of certainty when there is still much to learn about how the product should be developed. Even without a fixed price agreement, a proposal should lay out a clear plan, estimated timeline, and expected budget to meet your goals.
Get everything in writing. Before you begin working with an app development agency, make sure to get all agreements in writing. This will help protect you in case of any misunderstandings or disputes. Contracts should be clear and easy to understand, and should include a detailed scope of work, a timeline, and a budget. Your agency should also provide you with a clear process for communicating with them and for resolving any issues that may arise during the project.
By following these steps, you can increase your chances of success with using an agency to build your app. If you already have an app developer and are looking to transition to a new agency, read our blog about how to switch app development agencies.
In conclusion, some app development agencies use unethical practices that can have serious consequences for you, your users, and the app development industry as a whole. From misleading clients about their capabilities to cutting corners, these practices erode trust and damage the reputation of the industry. To address these issues, the app development industry must establish clear industry standards and best practices, encourage greater accountability, improve communication and transparency with clients, and build a culture of ethics and professionalism. By taking these steps, the app development industry can clean up its act and build a brighter future for everyone involved.