Apple Yanks 1,000-Plus iPhone Apps After Astroturfing Allegation

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Apple has removed more than 1,000 of developer Molinker’s apps from the App Store after a blogger raised concerns over the similarity of its mostly-positive reviews. According to the Guardian, many of Molinker’s apps were travel guides; a search of the App Store revealed that the developer is no longer there.

On November 28, blogger Glyn Evans posted on the iPhoneography web site the content of an email that a friend of his sent to Apple executive Phil Schiller. That person was interested in purchasing one of Molinker’s photography apps when they noticed this: “Please investigate for I have just looked at 44 of the reviewers who posted reviews for this Molinker Inc app "NightCam Pro" & EVERY Review except 2 of the 44+ are ALL FAKE 5 ★★★★★ reviews … If you investigate ALL have ONLY reviewed ONLY Molinker apps.

“A little odd that 42 of 44 US reviews are poorly written & that all users have only written reviews for either All Molinker photography apps (giving 5 star reviews to 6-7 Molinker apps ONLY no other apps by any other developer) or the same 2 apps.”

Mr. Evans subsequently confirmed with Mr. Schiller that Apple was investigating the claims, which apparently led to Molinker's apps being removed from the store (assuming the developer didn't flee the App Store). The Guardian noted that this isn’t the first time such an allegation was made: this past summer, MobileCrunch wrote about a PR firm accused of having interns post positive reviews of its clients’ iPhone games. The company, Reverb Communications, denied those claims.

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18 Comments Leave Your Own

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Yet two more reasons why the App Store should not be the only legitimate way for iPhone users to obtain software for their phones. (1) The ratings system is subject to gaming. (2) Anyone who might have wanted those apps can no longer get them.

Apple handled this badly. Delete the spammed ratings, refuse to accept more apps from the developers, etc. Don’t punish end-users.

Tiger

On the other hand, look how easy it is to fix. One fell swoop, they’re gone. I’m not gonna debate right or wrong here.

But it is definitely efficient.

geoduck

Hopefully other vendors will learn from this

Dean Lewis

What’s the old saying? Caveat emptor?

xmattingly

Apple handled this badly. Delete the spammed ratings, refuse to accept more apps from the developers, etc. Don?t punish end-users.

WRONG. What you are suggesting amounts to an allowance for false advertisement. Apple is a reputable company - do you honestly believe they should allow this to continue, just because it’s already on the store?

If Apple were to allow app developers to pump their products with phony ratings, shovelware or any other number of scams, that would do far more harm to customer good will than good. Frankly, I’m glad they police the App Store to boot that kind of crap out.

geoduck

What you are suggesting amounts to an allowance for false advertisement.

While I agree with what you’re saying I gotta say I finally put Bosco on my ignore list. His ‘Apple can do nothing right’ cries for attention have finally fallen off the edge of rationality. I just don’t feed the Troll any longer and I wish others would as well. /OT

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Since Apple has set itself up as the only game in town, it has to play by a special rule: piss nobody off. That it can’t possibly adhere to that rule suggests that it should not have set itself up as the only game in town. The people who either bought or downloaded the affected apps are the ones hurt the most. If they found the apps useful and are awaiting updates, there’s no chance in hell of that happening. Again, Apple can do whatever it wants in its App Store. But Apple should allow for realistic alternative distribution.

@geoduck even though he can’t read this, perhaps someone will paste it for him… I’m gonna rub people here pretty much one of two ways. One way is that I offend your religion and mock your prophets. If you feel that way or close to that way, I really feel bad that you have so much of your life and identity wrapped up in a friggin company. The other way is that eventually you’re gonna see and/or agree with my thesis that Apple makes some great products but Apple also limits the potential greatness of its products by having to be so in control of things.

sippincider

Another “gotcha” currently present on the App Store is you don’t have to actually install an app to post a review!

Limiting reviews to users who’ve downloaded an app and launched it at least once would eliminate a lot of problems.

xmattingly

I gotta say I finally put Bosco on my ignore list. His ?Apple can do nothing right? cries for attention have finally fallen off the edge of rationality.

Thanks for the great advice, Geoduck—I’m turning my back too.

He’s been coming on with the same old schtick for quite some time now… the verbal diarrhea is of no value, and it isn’t even worth acknowledging.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, as they say.

computerbandgeek

Wait, so just because this developer was misbehaving, I, as a user of the app, am no longer entitled to bugfixes? If I had known that I would not be able to get these bugfixes, I would not have bought the software in the first place. And it’s not exactly the developer’s fault that they aren’t allowed to fix the bugs?.

xmattingly

Another ?gotcha? currently present on the App Store is you don?t have to actually install an app to post a review!

That’s a good suggestion - in fact, it begs the question of why Apple hasn’t implemented it as policy. Seems like the simplest way to ward off fake reviews, to me.

Wait, so just because this developer was misbehaving, I, as a user of the app, am no longer entitled to bugfixes?

Did that actually happen to you, or are you just hypothesizing? And would you blame Apple if the software were buggy, and the developer simply decided to quit supporting it?

This scenario isn’t much different than any software - shareware, etc - that you might buy from any one of the thousands of small developers out there. No guarantees that the company you buy from today will be in business tomorrow.

Under the circumstances of this situation, it’s quite possible that - if you complained to Apple that you bought it based on positive reviews, you might be able to get a refund. But that is more hypothesizing.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

This scenario isn?t much different than any software - shareware, etc - that you might buy from any one of the thousands of small developers out there. No guarantees that the company you buy from today will be in business tomorrow.

It is much different. Apple is between the developer and the user. There is no legitimate alternative for users who aren’t tech savvy and developers who need to ship more than 100 units.

It’s funny… When Amazon did a semi-similar thing with a version of 1984 on the Kindle, they were loudly panned. Yet Apple removes all of a developer’s titles from the App Store and gets cheered in many quarters. In both cases, the number of actual end-users affected was a handful or two. What should bother people is the precedent. Things like ratings spamming can be dealt with quietly. It’s as if Apple were running Disneyland and called in the FBI with lights and sirens every time a kid walked off with a Mickey Mouse pencil eraser.

computerbandgeek

It is much different. Apple is between the developer and the user. There is no legitimate alternative for users who aren?t tech savvy and developers who need to ship more than 100 units.

It?s funny? When Amazon did a semi-similar thing with a version of 1984 on the Kindle, they were loudly panned. Yet Apple removes all of a developer?s titles from the App Store and gets cheered in many quarters. In both cases, the number of actual end-users affected was a handful or two. What should bother people is the precedent. Things like ratings spamming can be dealt with quietly. It?s as if Apple were running Disneyland and called in the FBI with lights and sirens every time a kid walked off with a Mickey Mouse pencil eraser.

My sentiments exactly.

Intruder

One small, independent developer has/had 1,000 apps on the App store?

xmattingly

Is quantity indicative of revenues, size of the business, or quality of the product? Hopefully your thoughts on this aren’t as one-dimensional as a certain squeaky troll.

Is it really hard to believe that a small developer could produce so much junk for the App Store? It’s happened before, and as far as I’m concerned it’s one more app-shitter (as Gizmodo not so delicately terms it) that the consumer world can do without.

Intruder

I was actually thinking that with so many apps, the quality is most likely questionable. Or they are just a bunch of variations on the same theme.

xmattingly

Yep, I kind of doubt there are many (if any) customers out there who will be crying the blues ‘cause they can’t get their bug fixes.

daemon

Or they are just a bunch of variations on the same theme.

From what I understand they were travel guides for various locations.

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