Assume every App Store review is a lie | Cult of Mac

Assume every App Store review is a lie

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App Store reviews
This app can’t be a scam. Look at all those positive reviews!
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Stop using the reviews you see in the App Store to help you decide what applications to buy. They’re meaningless because so many of them are fraudulent. And these purchased fake reviews are frequently used to trick people into buying scam applications.

The problem is severe enough that Apple should take reviews completely out of the App Store if it can’t come up with a better solution.

Fake App Store reviews are a thriving business

When you’re thinking of buying something from the App Store, it’s only natural to glance at user reviews to help you decide. Apple makes it easy, highlighting the average rating for each app, and how many reviews it’s received. If you’re really interested, you can read some these to see what other users have to say about the app.

The problem is, this information is almost completely meaningless.

A few seconds of googling “buy App Store reviews” turns up a lengthy list of companies offering to sell positive ones in bulk. And they aren’t subtle about it. “We provide only high-quality reviews which help your application to rank higher in App Store,” says the well-named App Reviews. It promises up to 100 five-star ratings. For a price, of course.

Scammers love these

Putting your trust in positive reviews can lead to getting scammed. Unethical companies put poorly made applications in the iOS App Store, then trick people into buying them with loads of fraudulent positive comments.

Kosta Eleftheriou, developer of the FlickType Apple Watch keyboard application, explained the threat of fake reviews with a real-world example. He described a scam application that claimed to do what his does but was “practically unusable.” It asked users to “unlock now” as soon as they opened the app. Pressing the unlock button signed the user up for a $416-per-year subscription.

People got fooled partially because the App Store listing showed so many positive reviews. Don’t think these were poorly written comments you could easy tell from real reviews, either. The scammers paid for top-quality fakes that remarked positively on specific features that didn’t really work in the badly written app.

Keep in mind that bogus reviews don’t come cheap. AppSally charges up to $780 for 56 iOS App reviews. Developers pay for them by charging huge fees users got tricked into paying.  While Apple recently started cracking down on software with enormous subscription fees, that doesn’t do anything about the crisis in fake reviews.

Regular developers and users are caught in the middle

The business of buying fake reviews creates a huge problem for small developers. It’s tough for their apps to compete when rivals can have dozens of glowing reviews … every one of which was purchased.

That surely tempts even good developers to buy some positive reviews themselves — even though it’s unethical. It’s also risky: The App Store guidelines warn devs that trying to “trick the review process” can result in the software, and the developer, being booted out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often enough to scammers.

The easy availability of fake reviews is also completely unfair to iPhone and iPad users who spend time posting real reviews in the App Store. They’re trying to help other people, but their voices get lost among the fraudulent comments.

What we can do about fake App Store reviews

With false reviews so easily available, you have to ignore all of them. Just assume every App Store review is fake. They can’t be used to tell good software from bad, because the bad ones can have tons of positive comments.

If you’ve been scammed by something you bought on the App Store, report it to Apple — and request a refund.

But this isn’t just a problem for users and developers. It’s a problem for Apple, too. The company should completely remove reviews from the App Store. The easy availability of fake submissions means reviews don’t do anything but help trick people into buying bad software. And it’s a black eye for the company that such a prominent feature of the App Store is so utterly dysfunctional.