Ratings scandal kills more than 1000 iPhone apps

Apple learns that developer's highly-rated apps weren't really so well regarded, and pulls them from the App Store.

Bogus reviews have landed Chinese iPhone app developer Molinker in deep trouble, resulting in all 1000-plus of its apps being removed and banned from the App Store. This is great news for consumers who are tired of downloading subpar apps based on inflated reviews, and bad news for companies looking to shill their products with internal misdeeds.

The discovery of the phony reviews was made by a frequent reader of iPhoneography, known only as SCW, who recognized a similar erratic and poorly-written tone to many 5-star reviews of Molinker apps. SCW wrote a (long) letter to Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, revealing the major fraud. According to the e-mail, SCW "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 [star] reviews."

The phony reviews didn't stop there. SCW posits that Molinker employees obtained and redeemed promo codes in order to access the US App Store and publish an "endless slew of fake postings." (Ever an opportunist, SCW also wrote: "I think I deserve a [sic] investigations reward for unearthing this blatant attempt at misleading & stealing from the public.")

Schiller leapt to action and removed the apps. "Yes, this developer's apps have been removed from the App Store and their ratings no longer appear either," Schiller wrote to SCW and iPhoneography.

Molinker claimed ignorance in a brief statement given to the appfreak blog. "We got [an] email from Apple yesterday [Sunday 6th] which told us our contract [has] changed to pending status. Actually, we do not know what's wrong so far. We had contacted Apple for such sudden changes, hope we can get quick response and actions from Apple."

I think it's a safe assumption that Molinker's apps aren't the only ones with fake 5-star reviews. Hopefully given the size of Molinker's mishap -- the developer's apps made up almost 1 percent of the entire App Store -- Apple, and its customers, will become more diligent when it comes to exposing fraud.

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)
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