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Beware of these lame App Store techniques (neotokyo.vg)
120 points by adambenayoun on July 1, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments

If one wants to see an app store where review spam is out of control one should take look at Apple's Mac App Store - because in this store you still can review applications that you obtained through redeeming a promo code.

Examples (need the Mac App Store app to see the reviews):

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/icd-any-musics-to-cd/id61667... (mostly reviews by accounts who only review apps by this one developer)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/audio-studio-pro/id598189439... (mass upvoting of fake reviews, downvoting of real reviews)

Ironically through a bug in the App Store the only apps that display any 'stars' in search results are apps that weren't update for months and said spammer apps that can gather unusual many reviews in a short time frame. (In a slow category like music getting even 5 ratings/reviews takes weeks. Suspicious apps usually get more than 5 ratings in one day.)

Then there's the trick to register your app as a handler for all possible 3 letter file extensions. (Perform a search for 'extension:fzx' or for any other nonsense 3 letter extension in the Mac App Store). Which hijacks OS X' built in "couldn't find app to handle somefile.fzx. do you want to search the app store?" and drives a lot of traffic to said apps - without being any helpful to the user in handling said file. One such app is:


That app topped overall grossing charts for weeks until the ratings got so bad that even the dullest user won't download it.

The Mac App Store currently is a spammed mess and it really throws a bad light on the OS X software ecosystem and Apple's platform.

This stuff has been happening since day one on the store, so dont take it too hard.

Two reviews is very minor but clearly just the Glide dev making a few accounts and downloading and then reviewing. But yeah, they're not very clever about it.

Just mark / report the reviews as inappropriate and put the reason for 'Suspect written by competitor' or something to that effect and they're usually removed pretty quickly.

>This stuff has been happening since day one on the store, so dont take it too hard.

Huh? He worked his ass to make the app, it should NOT have it fail just because some idiot made fake bad reviews. Let it fail or succeed on it's own merits (or lack thereof).

Other stuff has also been happing since day one of earth (like, theft or murder) but we still take then too hard. Why not this?

Theft sucks too and one shouldn't take that too hard either. Surely you don't advocate that the best approach in life is to take everything really hard? It's beneficial to not take something too hard while taking positive steps to correct the undesirable situation.

(And please don't compare a bad app store review to murder. A little perspective is a healthy thing.)

It's a bad app review it's not even comparable to murder. This is how business works and has worked in the real world for thousands of years - businesses tell customers there product is better than their competitors.

Also, although review can greatly affect sales 1 bad review should not. If you have any common sense you would have a few friends buy the app, review it positively, and that would offset the one negative review from your competitor.

The App Store is a marketplace you have no control over, and you're hoping the owner plays by the rules. The uncertainty of such of a marketplace has to factor into your outlook. (No one assesses their business without considering both risks and opportunities)

>The App Store is a marketplace you have no control over, and you're hoping the owner plays by the rules.

Which is beside the point. It's not Apple's whimsy that's under accusation here, it's the BS behaviour of a competitor.

>The uncertainty of such of a marketplace has to factor into your outlook. (No one assesses their business without considering both risks and opportunities)

That doesn't mean you should bend over and take it. Risks can be eliminated, especially if they are non essential to the operation of the marketplace, and even harmful to it's owner.

The history of this particular marketplace has shown that Apple has some willingness to listen to it's developers (e.g the reversal of the Obj-C only policy, changes they made to the approval process after assurances for it's betterment by Cook, continuous automation and fixes to the provisioning profile handling, the changes to allow easier giving your app to third party developers for testing etc).

Noted and agree, it's been happening for ages. I still think these tactics should be exposed every single time. And Apple/Google or any market place should be more strict about these kind of situations imho.

Although they'd take a lot of flack for it, Apple and Google should really be more liberal with the ban hammer. If it can be proved that you're doing stupid things like this, your dev account should be revoked.

Hard to prove; with strong punishment, there's a risk of "false flag" operations, whereby you start creating accounts to denigrate your own products, so that you can blame a competitor and get them shut down.

couldn't agree more - if not suspended then at least get some kind of penalty - if your ranking is in jeopardy because some marketing dude thing he's clever by paying for 1 star review, then perhaps people will rethink twice their strategy.

And then you have the reverse happen, putting bad reviews on your account linking to competitors.

At least they should delete the offending reviews. But as it stands for now fake reviews (be it positive or negative) stay for months in the app store.

Two reviews may be minor considering a free app (fortunately for the OP), but it can be a disaster for a paid app.

Not always. I check latest reviews for app, be it free or paid. And stuff like this can hurt downloads.

http://www.neotokyo.vg/ "The domain has expired 15887 days ago on 01 January 1970 and is pending renewal or deletion."

Am I missing something?

That's what most of the web will look like in 2038 :)

Perhaps they prepaid 25 years of domain charges?

The .VG nameservers are giving inconsistent replies.

vg.cctld.authdns.ripe.net, asia.zone.vg and europe.zone.vg are pointing to suspended.meridiantld.net. Only ns1.root-servers.vg replies with dns{1,2}.stabletransit.com.

Clearly HN-induced load broke whatever automatic load-meter they had.

I get that too

Network Solutions "didn't renewed" my domain with top level domain operator Meridian who manages country code top level domain for the British Virgin Islands .vg. Right on time Netsol!

Something similar happened to an app I built. The direct competitor in the web world (they had no app of their own) posted a 1-star review using his real name no less, mere hours after launch. This was followed shortly afterwards by 2 more with very similar wording. No luck in getting them removed and we just had to live with it, though it no doubt hurt a little that our first 3 reviews were all 'This is app is crap lol'.

It hurts in sales and it hurts in the gut. My app mostly has 4 and 5 star reviews, but it reached a wider audience recently after an update. Now the only reviews that appear are a recent pair of 1 and 2 star diatribes written by morons who barely turned it on before penning their illiterate, factually incorrect drivel.

It was never a high seller, but there's a clear and definite drop in sales after the 1 star review appeared.

I don't like how the app store makes it hard to find older reviews. I don't like how I can't comment on reviews. I don't like how I get no ability to reply through iTunes Connect to try and reach out to resolve any issues mentioned (when there are legitimate issues). I don't much like that the world is full of spiteful arseholes, either. Not much I can do about any of that unfortunately.

This happened to me on Google Play -


It actually was more blatant before - my app had two reviews, one from "Michal", one from "Mi", both giving my app a 1 star rating (it has a 4.4 star rating average otherwise), and both suggesting users download a competing app. The username of the person that publishes that competing app is Michal.

In the comments suggestion of that competitor's app, someone complains how they spammed bad reviews for their competitors, so apparently we weren't the only target.

It's more amusing than annoying for us. We have over 500 reviews for that app, so their one or two bad reviews don't do much damage. Our file manager is a minor app for us, and we have over 250,000 downloads of it. Despite their efforts, their file manager has less than 50,000 downloads. Their time would probably be better served by listening to their customers and improving their app, as opposed to trying to run down the apps of their competitors.

From my informal analysis, a bad one-star review is most dangerous in the initial days after an app has been deployed. Once you have hundreds (or thousands) of reviews up already, people get diminishing returns in trashing competitors apps. I also think Google watches the install/uninstall ratio more closely than reviews, since it's easier to game the system with in-store reviews.

Why can anyone rate an app? Why can't it be that you have to have used the app to be allowed to rate it, and the ratings weighed by your time in the app, your rating history, your rating history's stddev or collaborative filtering, etc?

Because there's a lot of us normal users who: 1) like to rate stuff from a different device, such as a computer, and 2) don't want using an app to necessarily and automatically constitute a permission to have all of our usage habits tracked and recorded.

It's sad that anyone associated with Glide didn't talk whoever greenlighted this out of this terrible idea. If your app is good, then let it succeed on its own merit. Not only will you get caught doing stuff like this, but it makes you look like an asshole to the rest of the dev community trying to hack the App Store reviews.

I am the author of this post and if anyone have a question I am more than happy to answer it.

I'm getting the following error:

    neotokyo.vg has expired

    Please contact your registrar or go to the Registry website

    The domain has expired 15887 days ago on 01 January 1970 and is pending renewal or deletion.

Yes makes perfect sense ... 15887 days ago on 01 January 1970

why .... this was a pre-internet blog !

You mean "pre-web blog" as the internet existed in 1970 :p (albeit it was just ARPANET back then - TCP/IP came a few years later)

Anyhow, I wonder if this is a fault at with his hosts (possibly a variable not assigned a value in some managed code) as the expires age happens to be the start date of the UNIX time stamp (epoch)

> You mean "pre-web blog"

And just as importantly, pre-DNS. Its impressive that a domain expired a decade before DNS was invented.

> And just as importantly, pre-DNS.

Good point :)

> Its impressive that a domain expired a decade before DNS was invented.

It's not that impressive as that's not a random date - displaying the start of epoch would likely mean that a value wasn't assigned to a variable, so when it's being read back (and converted to a human readable format), it's defaulting to the earliest date in epoch (1970). Just like how most languages default the value of an integer to 0 (zero). (in fact I'd wager that it is being held as an integer and the Jan date is the result of a conversion of that int defaulted at 0 into a human readable format)

Another type of spamming: Search iTunes music store for "Eric Walker", then look at "Tangier Dream". Have a look at the reviews, and see "RyanFarishFan". What you find is a series of reviews on other popular albums. Each review says, "this is great, and you should also check out eric walker's tangier dream".

I reported dozens of these as spam to iTunes, and a large number of them have been taken down.

How are you and glide competitors? They seem to be unifying cloud storage solutions, while you are a solution for (essentially) texting videos. What am I missing?

Anyway, Glide seems to have gotten in trouble with Apple:


You're talking about a different Glide - this is the actual Glide https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.glidetalk.... . You can email the developer, so I've sent an email to ask if they'll comment on this.

Am I missing the smoking gun here? It's not unusual for users to review several apps in the same area surely. What I tend to do is install 2 or 3 apps that look likely and choose which works best for me; usually I'll leave a review too [especially if the app is really bad].

The site seems to be down (o-tone domain expired since Unix epoch) for me. I'm assuming that's a temporary error?

Apple should institute an unpublished karma score for reviewers based on number of reviews, how long a user used the app prior to reviewing, etc and use it to weigh both visibility of the review and its contribution to the average score.

The general idea you propose has a lot of merit. One nit though -

>how long a user used the app prior to reviewing

Unfortunately, if the app crashes right after loading it on your phone then you won't have a very long time of use before reviewing it. I'm not sure your 1 star review should be discounted in this situation.

About the only thing surprising here is that this issue is so durable. The term "internet review" has almost become synonymous with "fabrication with alterior motive" whether it is the people sniping on Yelp, some of the amazingly funny kids books reviews on Amazon, or app store reviews from 600 accounts with 6 random letter account names.

If you're reading this, and you are interested in startups, all your spidey senses should be tingling like mad. This a Pain Point with capital P's. Review systems are hard, they have subtleties, they are important, they suck.

Why would they be so stupid as to rate both apps with the same account?

You would be surprised. I was shocked when well-funded competitors did this to us (and other strange smears and weird things like harassing our users on social media) with no attempt to even be stealthy about it. I don't even get why they bothered--users see through that stuff, putting so much bad energy and nastiness into the world is such a waste of effort and human capital.

Why would you think users would see through that stuff? The app developer may care. I don't see any reason why any users would put in the effort to investigate the authenticity of reviews on some random app.

Let's add up more to this: the 1 star reviews are gone. If they were legitimate reviews, why all of the sudden were vanished?

Google cache: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:www.ne...

Though it doesn't contain any images :(

I wonder how many reviews are posted per day in the Apple/Google app stores.

Let me give you a piece of advice - ask you users to leave good reviews, and ignore the haters. You will sleep well, and your overall score will go up.

I had on e goofed up my app and got a rash of about 40 bad reviews. I fixed the problem and added feature that asks users to rate my app. In a couple of months, the problem was dead and buried.

Let's classify this under 'No shit, Sherlock'. This happened on shareware BBS'es in the 1980's - nowadays it's about real money, so the incentives are only stronger.

Outing this kind of shit is needed.

Definitely. Just because it's been going on forever doesn't mean it's right. Google understands the need to fraud/abuse protection in AdSense: advertisers would flee if there was no trust in the system. Same thing here: if you want to grow and keep a motivated developer audience, especially in the light of new competitors and because they're pushing Android for more device types, this kind of unethical practices should be punished.

That's my whole point here and this whole system for reviews is broken. Apple considers all reviews as part of their trending/featured/what's hot algorithms. So this stuff really matters. That plus the fact that some people really make decisions to download something or not solely based on how many stars does it have. Apple/Google should punish this kind of practices. Big time.

>Let's classify this under 'No shit, Sherlock'. This happened on shareware BBS'es in the 1980's

Perhaps you are under the misguided impression that the actual Sherlock only took novel kind of crimes, and not murders, theft, blackmail and other stuff that has been going on for ages.

'No shit, Sherlock' is a generic snarky expression that means 'you are stating the obvious' and only has something to do with what the fictional character did in the books in the etymological sense.

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