As an app reviewer, I spend an inordinate amount of time browsing apps and app reviews in Apple’s App Store. When I’m considering an app review, or considering purchasing an app for personal use, one of the first things that I do is to read the user reviews, as I’m sure many of you do too.
Unfortunately, a newly released app or an app without a lot of reviews can sometimes have fake reviews, planted by developers or their friends, to trick unsuspecting customers and artificially inflate ratings. We’ve developed a quick guide that will help you avoid apps that are being falsely promoted.
Recently, at PadGadget, we came across a few apps with not just one or two fake reviews, but 30 or 40. One of the apps even had upwards of a hundred fake reviews, which was baffling to me because it takes a lot of effort to make that many false iTunes accounts.
Fake reviews are a problem that has plagued the App Store since its inception, and while Apple has made an effort to curtail falsifying ratings, no system is flawless, and it’s still an issue that users need to be well aware of when buying an untested app.
Back in May, Apple changed its app review policies, disallowing reviews of apps received from promo codes. Previously, App Store developers could request multiple promo codes to send to friends, who could then falsified reviews for the app. While promo codes can’t be used to for reviews anymore, developers can still use gifted apps and fake iTunes accounts to purchase apps and leave positive reviews, so it’s important to be vigilant when choosing an app.
Here are some obvious signs that a review is fake:
- The titles are all similar. Every user has to enter a title for a review, and when an individual is creating multiple titles in quick succession, they tend to be similar. Look out for reviews that all start with one word titles, or have a lot of the same words, like “great app,” awesome app,” “good app.” Here’s some titles of actual fake reviews: “amazing,” “nice,” “good,” “awesome.”
- Similarities in punctuation. We all have particular writing styles and tendencies towards certain words and punctuation. A person who regularly uses two exclamation points instead of one will often do that in multiple reviews, and the same is true of capitalization, comma usage, ellipses, and other punctuation marks. Additionally, if a word is misspelled in one review, it will often be misspelled in all of them. Two of the fake reviews, posted one right after another: “cool graphics.. loving it” and “its great fun & addicting..” The two single periods in each review are a dead giveaway that these aren’t real reviews.
- Names. The person writing fake reviews needs to come up with several different iTunes accounts in one sitting, and our brains aren’t wired to pick up on our own nuances. Several two word names, like Bob Smith, Brian Jensen, Pete Jones, and Frank Johnson are incongruous. Real people have widely varied user names.
- Problems with syntax. Like with punctuation and spelling, different reviews that truly come from just one user will share similarities in syntax: “it’s a cool game but it’s hard. if you like a challenge get this game”; “great game and fun. pretty difficult to get high scores.”; its hard at first. once you get the hang of it, its fun!” All of these reviews are short sentences, with with similar content and style.
- Clicking on a user’s name who left a review will take you to a list of all the reviews they’ve written. If there’s only a few, and they consistently give high reviews, be suspicious. Often, these users will leave reviews for the same group of apps, so click a few and find out if they have all been commenting on the same apps. As a bonus, you’ll find other apps to avoid! The catch is that this technique only works when you’re on your computer, so whenever possible, resist that impulse purchase on your iPhone or iPad and check it out first.
In the apps that I mentioned, with reviews by a developer that was padding their own ratings, there are hundreds of positive comments and then approximately ten negative, angry comments from customers who were falsely tricked into purchasing the app, and then realized the reviews were fake after the fact.
While there are some true independent gems in the App Store, a good rule of thumb is to also check out the other apps that a developer has put out. In the case that I mentioned, they have several apps all with fake reviews by the same group of iTunes accounts, so it was very obvious.
If you take a look at all the reviews and see clear links between them, it’s best to avoid the app and losing money. Google can be helpful as well. There are a lot of app reviewing sites out there, including PadGadget, who work hard to bring you honest information and opinions about apps. If there aren’t any third party reviews, and the app looks suspicious, trust your intuition and save yourself the frustration of downloading an app that’s been falsely promoted.