January 23, 2014 Last Updated 7:39 am

With so much money at stake, iTunes becomes flooded with dubious user reviews

It would be nice to think that a developer or publisher would not stoop to having dummy reviews written for their apps, but the practice is, if any, accelerating. Reviews can go both ways, of course, as some reviewers dump on apps from competitors, or settle scores.

The practice is an old one, but because of the nature of reviewing inside Apple’s ecosystem, the problem seems particularly bad there. Reviews for the update for Forbes Magazine written on the same day as the updated app was released, come from users who – coincidentally, I’m sure – also gave 5-star reviews of more apps from the same developer.

NTN-October-reviewsSometimes things are not so obvious, they just don’t feel right, as in the reviews for the app NowThisNews from late October – all 5-star and from reviewers who have no other reviews inside iTunes.

“The videos are short and to the point,” writes “El Sargente” in their only review. “I love the auto play feature, it makes it so easy for me to get caught up in the morning when I get ready for work. Then I can down and save the video to watch in the subway.”

If only PR agencies wrote this well. Maybe they do.

In the case of this app, the flood of suspect reviews are mixed in with a good number of other reviews, the vast majority of which are also positive. So if something funny is going on, why?

The answer is simply that reviews can drive downloads, they can drive reputation, it can lead to very good things like more app deals. (NowThisNews just inked a deal with NBCUniversal News Group.)

Encouraging, or even paying for, bogus reviews is not supposed to be allowed, of course. But Apple’s iTunes is clearly the place where it occurs the most as the App Store team has been largely absent from monitoring the store for around a year or so. Bogus magazines apps that say they are selling one title, but offer another inside the app, are allowed to exist in the store despite the obvious violation of developer guidelines (see the apps from this “publisher”).

Amazon and Google Play seem to have their share of hanky panky, as well. But Amazon’s store allows for conversation about products, so extremely negative reviews can be answered, as well as those that seem over the top in their praise. Apple’s few attempts at community – remember Ping? – have failed miserably.reign in

The Apple App Store has been compared to the Wild West, but it was in 2008 that third party apps were first allowed in. After all this time little has been done to rein in bad behavior from developers and their vendors. Apple has wanted to maintain its top spot in the number of apps it’s ecosystem could offer, but this effort has led to decreasing its curation efforts. It didn’t work anyways, the Google Play store now offers more apps, though by now the numbers are largely irrelevant – there are way more apps than any one user could download anyways. Apple’s share of app sales, actual dollars being spent, remains sold at around 63 percent, according to Distimo’s November report. But the other stores are closing the gap. One reason may be that users can see what is happening to the App Store, and they don’t like what they see.

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