If you smell a rat

From time to time we’ve read comments about “shill” (dishonest) reviews on the iTunes App Store. The be honest, we’ve tended to dismiss them as simply sour grapes. But then…

A few days ago we got an unsolicited mail from a company offering to market our apps for a fee (nothing odd in that). However in addition to the basic package they also offered “An additional service … download + 5 stars + positive comment on Appstore (US accounts).” Essentially an offer to be fraudulent on our behalf.

One of their clients, also a camera app developer (the name appeared on their testimonials page), had over 30 user-reviews of a then very recent release in the App Store… all five star. In fact one user gave five stars with a comment along the lines of “I hate this app do not buy this app”.

As developers it’s very annoying to know that this happens, but it’s encouraging to find that a natural balance does seem to evolve. Now, a few weeks later once the marketing grunts have left the scene, that app has a far more realistic-looking set of user reviews and its sales performance is probably appropriate.

Life in Lo-Fi touched on this recently with mention of an app that had a disproportionate number of five star user reviews in the App Store. Readers agreed that it seemed odd, and that falsifying star ratings is unethical. It’s also unhelpful; someone commented that it would be great if Apple was able to to do something about this. That would be great (if unlikely).

So be smart: if you smell a rat, there’s probably a rat around.