Amazon asked Apple to remove an app that spots fake reviews, and Apple agreed

Technology

CNBC 16 July, 2021 - 09:21pm 38 views

Apple on Friday removed the Fakespot app from the iOS App Store. Fakespot, which is a service for filtering and hiding fake product reviews on Amazon, launched its iOS app last month, but now, the app has been taken down following a request from Amazon itself.

Fakespot founder Saoud Khalifah told The Verge that Apple removed the app without even explaining its reasons. However, the developers confirm that Amazon sent them a takedown notice in June, which is probably why the iOS app is no longer available for iPhone and iPad users.

The app, just like its web browser extension, integrates with Amazon’s website using unofficial methods to identify fake reviews within product pages. Amazon, on the other hand, claims that the app injects code that can compromise users’ data, as well as providing consumers “with misleading information” about sellers.

Amazon confirms that it has asked Apple to remove the app under guideline 5.2.2, which prohibits developers from using third-party content in an app without permission. 9to5Mac reported in August 2020 that Apple had been using the same guideline to ban third-party apps that integrate with Tesla vehicles.

Fakespot developers pointed out that Amazon bought search results for the “Fakespot” keyword in the App Store to prevent users from finding the app. Searching for “Fakespot” in the App Store now shows the official Amazon app first in the list with an “Ad” badge. The app registered 150,000 installations on iOS devices during the period it was available on the App Store.

According to Amazon, the company already has the necessary tools to identify and stop fake reviews, suggesting that third-party services that claim to do this “are mostly wrong.” Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Filipe Espósito is a Brazilian tech Journalist who started covering Apple news on iHelp BR with some exclusive scoops — including the reveal of the new Apple Watch Series 5 models in titanium and ceramic. He joined 9to5Mac to share even more tech news around the world.

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Amazon just got Fakespot booted off Apple’s iOS App Store

The Verge 16 July, 2021 - 09:01pm

Did Fakespot need permission to call out fake reviews as you shop?

The giant retailer says it was concerned about how a new update to the Fakespot app was “wrapping” its website without permission, and how that could be theoretically exploited to steal Amazon customer data. But Fakespot founder Saoud Khalifah tells The Verge that Apple abruptly removed the app today without any explanation. Apple didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

The new Fakespot app launched just over a month ago on June 3rd, and I can confirm it let you log in to Amazon, browse, and buy items with Fakespot’s overlay on top. I downloaded and tried it a few weeks ago to see if it could help spot fake reviews on some new purchases, but I didn’t come to a conclusion on whether it actually helped.

Thank you to all of our users for making this new iOS app a reality. Together we will put an end to eCommerce fraud. We have more amazing products coming soon that will make secure shopping the gold standard for eCommerce. https://t.co/UyUnsOydzK

But in mid-June, says Fakespot’s founder, Amazon initiated a takedown notice. And just hours ago, Apple finally delivered a blunt three-line email about how it regretted that the situation couldn’t be resolved amicably and that Fakespot has now been removed from the App Store. “Apple hasn’t even given us the ability to solve this,” says Khalifah. “We just dedicated months of resources and time and money into this app.”

Amazon tells us it believes Fakespot violated Apple guideline 5.2.2, which reads:

5.2.2 Third-Party Sites/Services: If your app uses, accesses, monetizes access to, or displays content from a third-party service, ensure that you are specifically permitted to do so under the service’s terms of use. Authorization must be provided upon request.

Amazon also tells us that Fakespot injects code into its website, opening up an attack vector and putting customer data (including email, addresses, credit card info, and your browser history) at risk, though it says it doesn’t actually know if Fakespot is using this information.

“The app in question provides customers with misleading information about our sellers and their products, harms our sellers’ businesses, and creates potential security risks. We appreciate Apple’s review of this app against its Appstore guidelines,” reads a statement from Amazon.

But while Fakespot admits the app injects code to display its own scores, he categorically denies there’s any vulnerability and points out that apps which include a web browser view are common — including coupon apps that Amazon seems to “have no problem with wrapping around a webview browser.” Amazon did, however, try to warn against browser coupon extension Honey by suggesting it was a security risk last January.

Regardless of why, it’s a blow to one of the major outspoken critics of Amazon’s review system, as Fakespot is regularly cited in reports about review fraud on Amazon. Amazon even bought search ads against the “Fakespot” keyword in the App Store to reduce the app’s potential impact:

Amazon says it regularly audits companies that try to call out fake reviews and claims that Fakespot’s ratings are mostly wrong: “We regularly review products where Fakespot rated a product’s reviews as untrustworthy and their findings were wrong more than 80% of the time. They simply do not have the information we have—such as reviewer, seller and product history—to accurately determine the authenticity of a review.” Amazon suggests that it does a much better job of finding fake reviews itself by analyzing 30 million of them each week, though that clearly hasn’t stopped the fake and incentivized review problems yet — something we’re still investigating at The Verge.

Amazon wouldn’t say if it’s contacted Google about the Android version of the app, but that app hasn’t been updated since 2019.

Fakespot’s founder says the company is weighing its legal options now because it believes mobile is the future of shopping. “We’re seeing percentages of 60/40 now hovering in mobile’s favor,” Khalifah tells me.

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Apple removes review detector Fakespot from App Store after Amazon raises concerns

CNET 16 July, 2021 - 09:01pm

Fakespot touted the ability to detect bad sellers and fake reviews on Amazon, using sophisticated computer programs.

Apple took the Fakespot review app off its App Store on Friday, after it received a complaint from Amazon that said Fakespot inaccurately detects bad sellers and fake write-ups on its store

The move capped a month of back-and-forth between Apple, Amazon and Fakespot over the app, Fakespot CEO Saoud Khalifah said in an interview. Amazon said in a statement Friday that Fakespot "provides customers with misleading information about our sellers and their products, harms our sellers' businesses, and creates potential security risks" when it grades products and sellers on a scale separate from Amazon's own reviews system. Khalifah accused Amazon of attempting to cover up fraud occurring on its platform, which he said his app is designed to highlight.

"It's a consumer right to know when you're reading a fake review, if you're getting a counterfeit, if you're getting a product that is fraudulent that is going to harm you," he said. "This system is broken."

Fakespot's iPhone app has been installed about 150,000 times since it was released a couple of years ago. The company, which has so far raised more than $5 million in funding, doesn't currently make money off its service.

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.

Amazon's complaints about Fakespot come as the e-commerce company increasingly wrestles with companies and groups that solicit reviews on its platform. Amazon prohibits "incentivized" write-ups, in which companies give refunds or free products in exchange for reviews. 

In June, around the time Amazon took its initial complaint about Fakespot to Apple, Amazon published a blog post about fake reviews on its site. The company said it removed 200 million suspected fake reviews before they could be posted to pages listed by one of 1.9 million third-party sellers on its platform. The company uses computer programs to look for suspicious behavior, such as clusters of new customer accounts that review the same products. Still, fake review groups have popped up on social networks, such as Facebook, further encouraging the behavior.

Fake reviews can help brands game Amazon's system, which uses positive reviews to promote products in its rankings. 

"We have seen an increasing trend of bad actors attempting to solicit fake reviews outside Amazon, particularly via social media services," an Amazon blog post last month said. "Some use social media services on their own; in other cases, they hire a third-party service provider to perpetrate this activity on their behalf."

Fakespot says it is "a data analytics company" that uses computer programs to identify whether reviews and the reviewers leaving them are legitimate. The app assesses the quality of the reviewer's writing, the profile of the reviewer and other reviewer data for a given product. 

"We use artificial intelligence that has been trained to pick up on patterns," the company says in an explanation of its service. "The more data that flows into the system, the better the system gets at the detecting fakes."

Amazon said it reviewed products Fakespot rated as untrustworthy and found it was incorrect 80% of the time. Apple's review guidelines prohibit apps that spread "false information," as well as apps that access another company's service without permission.

Fakespot's Khalifah expressed frustration that Apple took down his app, while allowing Amazon's app, with the fake reviews his company finds, to remain up. "It's hypocrisy," he said. 

'Fakespot' Removed From Apple's App Store After Complaint From Amazon

MacRumors 16 July, 2021 - 09:01pm

Amazon said that Fakespot's app was "wrapping" the website without permission and that the app could potentially be exploited to steal Amazon customer data. Amazon sent the initial takedown notice in June, and today, Apple kicked the app from the ‌App Store‌.

Amazon claimed that Fakespot violated Apple's 5.2.2 ‌App Store‌ guideline that prevents apps from using, accessing, monetizing access to, or displaying content from a third-party service if not authorized to do so. A statement from Amazon said that the app was giving customers "misleading information" about Amazon sellers.

"The app in question provides customers with misleading information about our sellers and their products, harms our sellers' businesses, and creates potential security risks. We appreciate Apple's review of this app against its Appstore guidelines."

Fakespot founder Saoud Khalifah told The Verge that Apple did not give it an opportunity to solve the problem. "We just dedicated months of resources and time and money into this app," he said. He went on to say Amazon's willingness to "bully little companies" showcases "cracks in their company."

A search for Fakespot confirms that the Fakespot app is no longer available for download from the iOS ‌App Store‌. While it was active, it had more than 150,000 installs.

Fakespot is well known for analyzing Amazon reviews and providing a rating or grade on how many of those reviews come from actual people. Amazon says that it regularly analyzes products with reviews that Fakespot calls out as untrustworthy, but that Fakespot's findings "were wrong more than 80% of the time."

Amazon says that Fakespot does not have the appropriate information to "accurately determine the authenticity of a review." Fakespot's website continues to be active and is available for Amazon shoppers to use, plus there is a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox.

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Apple removes Fakespot from App Store following Amazon complaint

AppleInsider 16 July, 2021 - 09:01pm

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Amazon on Friday said it complained to Apple about an app called Fakespot, which it claims inaccurately identified fraudulent sellers and fake reviews, leading to the title's removal from the App Store.

Fakespot bills itself as a data analytics firm that applies artificial intelligence to the task of detecting false reviews and reviewers on a variety of sites including Amazon, TripAdvisor, Walmart and Yelp, according to its website. The goal of the program is to protect consumers from misleading information, the company says.

Amazon, which is facing a growing problem of fake or incentivized reviews, in a statement said Fakespot "provides customers with misleading information about our sellers and their products, harms our sellers' businesses, and creates potential security risks" when it uses tools that do not adhere to Amazon's own grading system, reports CNET.

The e-commerce giant said it performed a review of Fakespot ratings and found that the third-party firm's findings were incorrect 80% of the time, the report said. Amazon also complained that a recent version of the Fakespot app was "wrapping" its website without permission, or allowing users to log in and view Amazon's storefront with a "secure shopping" overlay, reports The Verge. That unauthorized access, and the fact that Fakespot injects code into its website, could lead to data theft, Amazon contends.

In a statement to The Verge, Amazon said it believes Fakespot violates guideline 5.2.2, a rule dealing with third-party site and service permissions.

Amazon started the takedown process in June by informing Apple of potential App Store violations and the tech giant seemingly booted Fakespot from the App Store on Friday. Apple has not commented on the matter.

Fakespot founder Saoud Khalifah confirmed the takedown in a statement to The Verge, saying Apple alerted him to the removal in a three-line email.

"Apple hasn't even given us the ability to solve this," Khalifah said. "We just dedicated months of resources and time and money into this app."

Fakespot is commonly sited in reports about fraudulent Amazon reviews. That fact was apparently not lost on Amazon, which reportedly attempted to counter the third-party review rating app by purchasing search ads against the "Fakespot" keyword. Khalifah said his app was installed some 150,000 times on iOS.

"Amazon is willing to bully little companies like ours that showcase the cracks in their company," Khalifah said.

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Review detector Fakespot disappears from Apple App Store after Amazon raises concerns

CNET 16 July, 2021 - 09:01pm

Apple took the Fakespot review app off its App Store on Friday, after it received a complaint from Amazon that said Fakespot inaccurately detects bad sellers and fake write-ups on its store

The move capped a month of back-and-forth between Apple, Amazon and Fakespot over the app, Fakespot CEO Saoud Khalifah said in an interview. Amazon said in a statement Friday that Fakespot "provides customers with misleading information about our sellers and their products, harms our sellers' businesses, and creates potential security risks" when it grades products and sellers on a scale separate from Amazon's own reviews system. Khalifah accused Amazon of attempting to cover up fraud occurring on its platform, which he said his app is designed to highlight.

"It's a consumer right to know when you're reading a fake review, if you're getting a counterfeit, if you're getting a product that is fraudulent that is going to harm you," he said. "This system is broken."

Fakespot's iPhone app has been installed about 150,000 times since it was released a couple of years ago. The company, which has so far raised more than $5 million in funding, doesn't currently make money off its service.

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.

Amazon's complaints about Fakespot come as the e-commerce company increasingly wrestles with companies and groups that solicit reviews on its platform. Amazon prohibits "incentivized" write-ups, in which companies give refunds or free products in exchange for reviews. 

In June, around the time Amazon took its initial complaint about Fakespot to Apple, Amazon published a blog post about fake reviews on its site. The company said it removed 200 million suspected fake reviews before they could be posted to pages listed by one of 1.9 million third-party sellers on its platform. The company uses computer programs to look for suspicious behavior, such as clusters of new customer accounts that review the same products. Still, fake review groups have popped up on social networks, such as Facebook, further encouraging the behavior.

Fake reviews can help brands game Amazon's system, which uses positive reviews to promote products in its rankings. 

"We have seen an increasing trend of bad actors attempting to solicit fake reviews outside Amazon, particularly via social media services," an Amazon blog post last month said. "Some use social media services on their own; in other cases, they hire a third-party service provider to perpetrate this activity on their behalf."

Fakespot says it is "a data analytics company" that uses computer programs to identify whether reviews and the reviewers leaving them are legitimate. The app assesses the quality of the reviewer's writing, the profile of the reviewer and other reviewer data for a given product. 

"We use artificial intelligence that has been trained to pick up on patterns," the company says in an explanation of its service. "The more data that flows into the system, the better the system gets at the detecting fakes."

Amazon said it reviewed products Fakespot rated as untrustworthy and found it was incorrect 80% of the time. Apple's review guidelines prohibit apps that spread "false information," as well as apps that access another company's service without permission.

Fakespot's Khalifah expressed frustration that Apple took down his app, while allowing Amazon's app, with the fake reviews his company finds, to remain up. "It's hypocrisy," he said. 

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