iPhone App Review Astroturfing Gets Uglier

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MobileCrunch has a huge post up detailing the latest, and potentially one of the most brazen cases of fake iPhone reviews (astroturfing) to date.

To sum up, MobileCrunch claims PR firm Reverb Communications has been using fake iTunes accounts to deliberately and strategically post fake App Store reviews for their clients -- some of which are fairly recognizable names in the iPhone and iPod touch development space. According to an anonymous tipster:

Reverb employs a small team of interns who are focused on managing online message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keeping a gauge on the online communities. Reverb uses the interns as a sounding board to understand the new mediums where consumers are learning about products, hearing about hot new games and listen to the thoughts of our targeted audience. Reverb will use these interns on Developer Y products to post game reviews (written by Reverb staff members) ensuring the majority of the reviews will have the key messaging and talking points developed by the Reverb PR/marketing team.

Reverb has responded-ish to the claims, and MobileCrunch to the response, so check out the full article for all the annoying details.

Bottom-line remains, however, that if you make great apps, people will tend to find them. If you make great publicity absent a great app, people will only find disappointment and hold a grudge against the next app. So, stick to making great apps, and leave the game playing to the users, b'okay?

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPhone App Review Astroturfing Gets Uglier

16 Comments

I think the key here is to find reviewers that are present in the app reviewing market and request a review, rather than using a PR agency to "review" the apps.
I think it's also important to encourage buyers to also view reviews by app reviews they trust and believe are doing honest reviews - like some of us in the forums.Than only basing the research on the iTunes reviews. Because quite frankly most people are going to rank the review and write little or nothing at all about it it they like/dislike it.
Pardon spelling/ grammer.

This practice of “padding” reviews to boost sales is outrageous. The dev and their companies should have their apps removed from the app store and they should be banned from ever selling another app through Apple. Of course, this will never happen so this is what I do instead.
I read most of the reviews across the board from 1 to 5 stars. I pay close attention to any common complaint that might be mentioned in several reviews. This tells me there is something wrong with this app. Even though most of the reviews many be positive, I stay away from that app because too many users are complaining about the same thing(s) therefore, I know there is something to it.
I also use this method when reading reviews on Amazon or any other site. As an example, a friend was going to buy a VW bug. Most reviewers raved about the car, but several said the headlights burned out quickly. I called my cousin that had a VW and he confirmed this was true. So, my friend didn’t buy the VW, in part to this one problem, but there were other problems with the car as well.
Put it this way, if 200 reviewers say the app is everything they were looking for and give it 5 stars, then 50 reviewers say it crashes and 30 reviewers say there is a certain part of the app that does not work right, then would you still buy this app?

I refuse to read reviews littered with Emoji, moron shorthand (u, ur, dis, dat, etc.), reviews written with caps lock on. or one-sentence reviews.
If a review has none of the above, I'll begin reading it. However, if I have to read a sentence more than twice because I can't understand it, I move on. I'm not referring to weak English, either — that's easy to spot. I'm no English professor, but there are some real imbeciles in the App Store who don't even bother reading what they write.
I agree with D Dell that app padders should be banished for life.

Honestly -
This doesn't surprise me much. I remember a couple years ago when someone was fired from Gamestop (one of the premier game review sites for console and PC) for posting a bad review of a game that advertised on that website. Apparently, advertising with Gamestop buys you a good review. Ever since that story broke, I've been wary of any type of reviews I see on products.

This is why I almost never buy an app unless I read a review on a reputable site. The star rating means next to nothing on most of these apps. Many of the comments are also completely inane or biased and don't help either. There are just too many terrible apps out there to go throwing money away to be the first to download them unless you know they are from a reputable dev group.

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I am an iPhone developer myself. I think every iPhone developer has written a good review for his own app. I did. I also mentioned in the review that I am the developer of the app.
Anyway, while FAKING good reviews may be morally questionable, look at it from the following point of view:
You developed an app for a few months. You are a fast coder who delivers top-notch quality in a 90 hour week. So it took you only 2 month to develop this great app. You are a little short on money, because the last two month you only worked on this app, and the rent and the next payment for that mac you leased to do the coding is due.
Would you oppose to 5 or 6 good reviews written by people who actually used your app, and so are entitled to their opinion (even if that opinion might be biased by who they work for?) I cannot see any harm here. If customers like to jump a band wagon, let them do it. And if they dont like the app, let them write bad reviews! If the app isnt any good, the bad reviews will soon outweigh the few "faked" positive reviews.

We have a letter from the PR company, as well as evidence on itunes of accounts only rating the PR’s apps, and only giving 5 stars.

Theres a big difference between faking reviews and proving a channel for reviews to happen. If the reviewers are not compensated to review the app well, then there's no reason a PR firm cant bring 20 unbiased reviewers to the table for their clients.

This does not surprise me at all faking review is the in thing for a lot of apps. Funny thing is I checked out the PINGER app reviews and I noticed they bash better apps out there. Why bash a company who has produced a superior product to yours with fake reviews?

No Steven, not every developer has reviewed their own app. Because that is unethical and despicable. If you took a minute to look at the thousands of apps that are in the new releases, you would see hundreds with no reviews because their authors have actual integrity, something that seems to be lacking more and more in this world.