With over one million apps in Apple's iTunes store, it's difficult for small developers to make a name for themselves. Most of them rely on customer reviews and app reviews from websites like Apppicker.com. Earning a positive reputation takes hard work and that starts by developing a solid app. So, when an individual, for whatever reason, decides to start leaving fake reviews about apps, it could have a devastating impact on these small developers.
How does it hurt small developers?
Besides advertising, which many small developers don't have the budget for, word of mouth is the most significant method for the success of one's app. Or in this case, words on pages in the form of reviews. Apple has set up a system where each registered iTunes account can leave a review expressing their opinions and experiences with the app. Unfortunately, the system didn't take into account those who maliciously leave negative reviews. For small developers, even one or two maliciously fake reviews can deter people from downloading their app. No downloads equals no revenue. And, no revenue equals out of business. Bottom line, we all look at the ratings of each app and what other users are saying. So, if a user starts saying how terrible the app is, most of us will move on to a similar option.
Fake vs. Real
Some of you may be asking how is it possible to know if it's a fake or real review. And let's also put out there that some people could use fake reviews for positive ratings too. It does go both ways. Let me say this, Apple has the means and the resources to ascertain what each and every one of us are doing with our accounts. In fact, they keep track of all of this information for business purposes. So, they could easily decipher if someone is purposely trolling accounts just to leave negative remarks.
It's really not up to other users to have to wade through the reviews on the iTunes pages to decide which are real and which are fake. However, one could easily check out a few app reviews from credible websites to get a more clear picture of the app.
The battle is really between the small developers and the trolls.
A few months ago, Amazon filed lawsuits against websites that sold fake reviews to Amazon sellers in effort to deceive the public. This was a groundbreaking action by Amazon and it can really open the door for other major companies like Apple. Additionally, I believe it could open the door for developers to file suit if they can prove that the reviews are fake and have malicious intent. The problem comes down to how a developer can do this.
Here's a recent example of this very scenario between a small developer and an obvious troll that was brought to my attention. Identities are protected for the developer and I don't want to give the troll any publicity.
Roddy the small developer created an app that has received a modest amount of positive feedback. This has earned Roddy some 4 and 5 star ratings which improved his app's overall number of downloads and revenue. Then all of a sudden someone leaves a very negative review. It's the only negative review out of the 12 that were left. It's completely opposite of every other review. And to make matters worse, when anyone Googles the user's name they can see that this particular user has left a few dozen negative reviews for different apps. Not one positive review for nearly 30 apps. And many of the negative comments have similar statements.
It's clear, that this user is a troll and the review was a malicious attempt to damage the developer and deceive the public.
What should Apple do?
Apple needs to create a better system that allows developers to address the issues with users before they leave negative comments. This could possibly deter fake reviews as a personal interaction would be needed before a review could be left. And, the onus would be on the developer to reply in time to address the issue.
If that option doesn't work, then apple should limit the ratio of negative comments left per user based on how frequently they leave comments or how frequently they download apps.
Fake reviews are clear violations of Apple's TOS, which could easily allow Apple to ban trolls. One would think that Apple would take more action on this matter considering they are losing money too. Unfortunately, they are still not doing enough. Banning trolls is just the beginning. Threatening legal action would be the ultimate deterrence.
Share your opinions with us on this matter. What do you think Apple should do with these trolls?