College student caught trafficking drugs through iOS app, title still available on App Sto...

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 20
A UC Santa Cruz student was indicted last week on charges of distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine, business he allegedly conducted through an app made available on Apple's iOS App Store.

Banana Plug
The "Banana Plug" app was allegedly used to distribute narcotics.


According to an affidavit filed by a Homeland Security Investigations agent, Collin Riley Howard, 18, developed the app "Banana Plug" to distribute narcotics and other contraband to local customers between Nov. 7 and Nov. 28, 2018.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California made the indictment public in an announcement Tuesday.

Along with cocaine and methamphetamine, the app advertised "Molly" and "Shrooms," while customers were invited to make "special requests" for other controlled substances. UC Santa Cruz police were tipped off to the illicit app after finding posters publicizing "Banana Plug" to students at the UC Santa Cruz campus.

In a sting operation that followed, an undercover HSI agent used the app to request marijuana and cocaine. Subsequent Snapchat messages helped facilitate a total of four purchases, the third and fourth of which involved more than five grams of methamphetamine, according to the statement. Howard was arrested on Feb. 15, before payment for the fourth sale was tendered.

"Banana Plug," which remains available for download on the App Store as of this writing, is marketed as a game "involv[ing] bananas and plugs." Users tap tiles that alternate between images of bananas and electrical plugs, the goal being to clear the screen of all bananas.

How customers allegedly communicated with Howard is unknown, though those specific features might no longer be active in the app's most current version. "Banana Plug" was published to the App Store last October and was updated twice, most recently in November. The app's name appears to reference the college's mascot, the Banana Slug, and the street term "plug," which is typically used to describe a drug dealer.

"We Have What You Want," the app's teaser reads.

The statement does not make clear how the app passed through Apple's review process, nor does it specify whether Apple was made aware of the app's nefarious nature prior to or following Howard's arrest. As noted in section 1.4.3 of Apple's App Review Guidelines, software like "Banana Plug" is strictly prohibited from distribution on the App Store.
Apps that encourage consumption of tobacco products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store. Apps that encourage minors to consume any of these substances will be rejected. Facilitating the sale of marijuana, tobacco, or controlled substances (except for licensed pharmacies) isn't allowed.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Masquerading as an innocuous game, "Banana Plug" most likely snuck past Apple's stringent review protocols and onto the App Store, where it remained undetected for a month.

Howard faces a maximum 20 years in prison and a fine of $1,000,000 for each of two counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine. On two concurrent counts of possession with intent to distribute more than five grams of methamphetamine, Howard could serve a minimum 5 years in prison and a maximum of 40 years in prison, and a fine of $5,000,000 each.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    The app name sounds like a sexual connotation.  LOL
    macseekerfastasleepStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 12

    Unless there was an obvious way to request for drugs or there was a flashing banner on the app saying "REQUEST DRUGS", it is very unlikely that Apple would have withheld the app.


    tobianracerhomie3dedgeckoStrangeDaysloopychewwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 12
    There will always be examples of nefarious actors sneaking things onto the App Store. I don’t consider Apple at fault for this app being on their store in the first place. 

    But: the app is still available at the time of this article’s publication. The charges against the developer are now public, the press has published stories about it, the public now know about it, and yet Apple apparently doesn’t. 

    Just like they didn’t “know” about the group FaceTime bug until the press pointed it out to them. 

    Just like they didnt “know” about the abuse of enterprise certificates until the press pointed it out to them. 

    Apple’s latest playbook is to act surprised when the press and others find problems with their ecosystem, and then take action retroactively. 

    If the press and public know about this stuff, why can’t Apple discover it too? What tools do the press have access to that Apple doesn’t? It’s *their* platform, and *their* ecosystem. They appear unable to adequately police it, and are content to let the rest of the world do the work for them. 
  • Reply 4 of 12
    I take it that the app was used to sell drugs by having users communicate with ‘code’ words that were apparently known to people with some street smarts. I don’t see how Apple can be held responsible. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 12
    foljsfoljs Posts: 335member
    MisterKit said:
    I take it that the app was used to sell drugs by having users communicate with ‘code’ words that were apparently known to people with some street smarts. I don’t see how Apple can be held responsible. 
    They can be held responsible for taking down the app, or not featuring it on their "App of the week" iTunes store highlights!

    This is clearly good stuff!
  • Reply 6 of 12
    Just downloaded the app. At first glance nothing conspicuous. One reset button. The square play field. Nothing else. To me just one of his total of seven games in the App Store. 
    I’m really curious how this app allowed for communication. Maybe a “secret tap order” enables a way to communicate. On the other hand, why this effort and not simply use e2e encrypted messaging?
  • Reply 7 of 12
    D_CMillsD_CMills Posts: 23unconfirmed, member
    Seems to be gone now. 
  • Reply 8 of 12
    mr lizard said:
    There will always be examples of nefarious actors sneaking things onto the App Store. I don’t consider Apple at fault for this app being on their store in the first place. 

    But: the app is still available at the time of this article’s publication. The charges against the developer are now public, the press has published stories about it, the public now know about it, and yet Apple apparently doesn’t. 

    Just like they didn’t “know” about the group FaceTime bug until the press pointed it out to them. 

    Just like they didnt “know” about the abuse of enterprise certificates until the press pointed it out to them. 

    Apple’s latest playbook is to act surprised when the press and others find problems with their ecosystem, and then take action retroactively. 

    If the press and public know about this stuff, why can’t Apple discover it too? What tools do the press have access to that Apple doesn’t? It’s *their* platform, and *their* ecosystem. They appear unable to adequately police it, and are content to let the rest of the world do the work for them. 
    I've had to deal with a certain company's back end support on numerous miserable occasions and I'll just say they are gatekeepers. It's not surprising at all to me that they would ignore any requests or information of this nature until someone from PR or higher up gives them directives.
  • Reply 9 of 12
    A highOS app..
    DanManTXAppleExposed
  • Reply 10 of 12
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,652member
    This is stupid.  Many apps can be used to facilitate drug transactions.  Heck, iMessages is used to text back and forth between people wanting to buy drugs.  Should we ban that too?
    AppleExposedwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 12
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,130unconfirmed, member

    Genius.


    I believe the sentencing is way too harsh. Typical American system.


    Can't expect Apple to be on top of the million of Apps on the App Store now.

    watto_cobra
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