Digging into the Amazon Underground

We use affiliate links. If you buy something through the links on this page, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more.


Some of you may have noticed a few weeks ago that Amazon has implemented a change in its Appstore. Amazon Underground is a new permanent program that Amazon has created to provide its customers “with over $10,000 in paid apps, games, and in-app items now FREE” every day via the web, 3rd generation or later Fire tablets, non-Amazon Android devices and Blackberry 10 devices that have the Amazon Underground app installed. The Underground app is essentially the Amazon Shopping app with the addition of these completely free apps. Only apps that meet Amazon’s requirements can participate in Underground and will be completely free. This program also appears to take the place of the “Free app of the day” deals.

App developers who qualify are able to include their app in the Underground program. They must satisfy the following criteria (according to Understanding Amazon Underground):

  • Your mobile app must be available for download from at least one other app store, such as Google Play, and be monetized in at least one of the following ways:
    • The app is available for purchase for a fee in all other app stores where it is sold.
    • The app contains in-app items that are available for purchase for a fee.
  • Your mobile app must not contain any subscription in-app items.
  • The features and gameplay of the Amazon Underground version of your app must be substantially similar to or better than the non-Underground version.
  • When you submit your app to the Amazon Appstore, you must make your app available for distribution on at least one non-Amazon mobile device.

Amazon pays the app developers on a per-minute basis which is $0.002/min. in the U.S.

To determine the usage time, at the end of a 24-hour reporting period, Amazon calculates the total time aggregated (in milliseconds) multiplies it by the royalty rate, and rounds this number to the smallest unit of currency for your marketplace. For example, in the US, this number will be rounded to the nearest cent.

Thus in order to use any of these free apps, you must have “Collect App Usage Data” enabled under “App & Games Settings”. What I find interesting is that it is unclear how Amazon will be making money with Underground to offset the amount being paid to the developers. Is the purpose just to expand the Appstore customer base to compete with Google Play?

Will this be a better option for developers? The money made on many apps is made through in-app purchases. Android Police points out that developers who use Underground are hoping to attract a vast number of users who would not spend money on in-app items while weighing the potential loss of revenue for those who would.

How does this affect app users like you and me? Well, the obvious is that we can get access to completely free apps through Underground that are not free through other sources, such as Google Play. However, in the process of reading about Amazon Underground, I found that some people are wary of the number of permissions that the Underground app asks people to accept. After looking briefly at the list of permissions in the Amazon Shopping app versus the Amazon Underground app, there appears to be a couple of additions (“send SMS messages” and “create accounts and set passwords”) but the permissions are not drastically different from the original app. In addition, some users are simply concerned with sharing their app usage data, thus giving up more of their privacy. In this instance, it appears that it is only Amazon collecting that data in order to pay developers versus tracking for marketing purposes when developers use ads within their free apps.

If you are interested, you can download the Amazon Underground app here using your device if you don’t already have it. Amazon Underground is only available to those in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany.

5 thoughts on “Digging into the Amazon Underground”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. Apparently the way Amazon will be making money on this, at least at first, is to run interstitial ads when you open the free apps. Supposedly you’ll always get an ad the first time you open an app, and then sometimes thereafter probably based on how much you use it.

    1. I read about those interstitial ads while researching Amazon Underground and tested three apps from Underground to determine what ads I might see. Of the three apps I’ve used in one day, only one had an ad and it was for the Amazon Underground app. Perhaps since it’s early in the program they will add others. However, I got the feeling while doing my research that Amazon doesn’t have a definitive plan for making money with this program or maybe they do and just haven’t disclosed the information.

      1. Rob, the ads seem to act just as you describe. After using the Underground apps a little more, I found that when opening them in succession, only the first app that I open runs an ad. That ad has typically been an ad for the Amazon Underground app. However, there were a couple of other ads: generic Amazon ads for things like Women’s shoes or Men’s jeans. The ads only seem to pop up when I haven’t used the app in a while.

  3. Probably should check out those permissions a little closer. From what I saw and have read, Amazon’s Underground permission set is basically completely controlling your phone. They read all SMS messages (both sent and received) which is NOT a good thing. Why do they need to read my personal text messages? Control my flashlight? Really? No, Amazon went way off the deep end on this. I will not be installing or using Underground for any reason unless they wind back their permissions. Also, there are many posts how the “free” stuff isn’t always free, when it should be, plus apps people previously purchased have disappeared and replaced by the “free” apps and they have lost functionality.

    Besides, I don’t want to shop Amazon from my phone, that’s why I have my computer. No, I want an appstore app, not a “shop for everything we carry” app. Google will be just fine unless Amazon gets their act together.

    1. The purpose of this news post was to inform people of what Amazon Underground is (not to justify Amazon’s app permissions) and to let the readers decide for themselves whether or not to install the app.

      As far as the permissions that you mentioned are concerned, the original Amazon Shopping app from Google Play already had access to SMS messages but the Amazon Underground app has the addition of sending SMS messages. I don’t personally like this either, but if people already had the original Amazon Shopping app, then the Underground app has very similar permissions. Access to the Flashlight, I suspect, is sometimes necessary when scanning a barcode on a product to shop for that product on Amazon so I understand that permission.

      All this is moot to you since you don’t shop on Amazon using your phone. But many people do (I’m one of them).

      The good news is that Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) will be coming out soon and will allow the user to accept or deny individual app permissions when an app wants to access something on your phone.

      “Free” apps are not free. We either pay for them by allowing the ads within them to track us or we pay outright for the app. Some ads are clearly abusive, but others are genuine and pay for the developers time to provide us a service.

      You also mentioned something about free apps replacing paid versions of the same apps and losing functionality. I assume you are speaking of Underground apps? If so, this is informative and worthy for other readers to note before using Amazon Underground apps. Do you have a forum page you can reference so that others may read what you are speaking about?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *