Fakespot, is a consumer-focused tool welcomed for its handy web browser extensions that assist users in spotting bogus product reviews. It has been available in an app format for iOS customers but all that is about to change. 

Amazon has been pushing for a takedown and now as Fakespot itself has confirmed Apple has decided to forgo the hassle and remove the app from its store. So if you are an iPhone or iPad user you no longer have the option to install the app version.

The main argument fuelling the decision concerned the latest update release. The update allowed Fakespot to carry out data wrapping. For those who aren’t clued in this essentially allows a platform to gather analytics whilst you browse. The idea is that they can then monetize by making products and adverts tailored to the individual and bottom line more valuable for customers. But, the retailer says the update required no permission from the installer and provided a loophole for Fakespot to exploit, essentially stealing Amazon customer data. 

Sean Hollister at The Verge reported that Saoud Khalifah, the Fakespot founder, says that Apple took down the app pretty abruptly and without explanation. Apple is currently disputing the circumstances but confirms the removal.

Fakespot rolled out its newest secure shopping app update last month. It allows installers to log into their Amazon account with a Fakespot overlay that stays in place whilst you browse and purchase. Testers over at The Verge and elsewhere have confirmed it functions pretty well however, no one seems to be able to tell whether or not it helps to spot a fake review…The key thing it supposedly exists to do. 

Amazon was pretty quick to initiate a takedown order, being a giant business operation with one of the world’s largest financial backings. The notice was issued mid-June just we1eks after Fakespot had launched. Khalifah is saying that Apple delivered Fakespot a three-line email informing the founder of the decision to remove the app from its iOS store, stating they were apologetic that the situation couldn’t be resolved amicably. Unsurprisingly the founder is a little irked at the swift manner in which things have been done. “We just dedicated months of resources and time and money into this app,” says Khalifah. “Apple hasn’t even given us the ability to solve this.”

However, not long after the story hit media and online news outlets Apple responded contradicting the narrative. They adamantly told reporters at The Verge that Khalifah’s account doesn’t reflect the entire story…

“This was a dispute over intellectual property rights initiated by Amazon on June 8 and within hours we ensured both parties were in contact with one another, explaining the issue and steps for the developer to take to keep their app on the store and giving them ample time to resolve the issue. On June 29, we again reached out to Fakespot weeks before removing their app from the App Store.”

Khalifah doesn’t deny the above, he has since clarified that Apple made mention that it “may be forced to pull” Fakespot on June 29th. But insists that they didn’t provide them with any guidance or advice on measures to take to prevent the app store removal from happening. Instead, he says it has been a series of conversations between Amazon and Fakespot with the two parties arguing their cases. Ultimately ending in an abrupt pullout from Apple that has left the founder at a real loss. “I’m shocked Apple decided to side with Amazon without any proof,” says Khalifah.

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 disclosed to The Verge that Fakespot website coding opens an unauthorized attack vector that potentially puts email, addresses, credit card info, and browser history details at risk. They state that they have no idea of the intentions Fakespot has with collecting the data and are not speculating on its use, merely pointing out the potential for data breach risk. 

Their main point to take away is, in their own words; “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 is transparent when it comes to the admission of the app code injection which it requires to function and displays its own scores. But completely rejects the idea of any data vulnerability. Other apps that operate in the same manner with web browser views are common throughout Apple’s iOS store. Coupon apps for example Amazon seem to have no objection to, yet they work in the exact same way and collect the same data. That said, we should point out Amazon did warn against the use of Honey, a browser coupon extension that poses a potential security risk at the start of the year in January.

There is cause for concern when it comes to the credibility of reviews, there are paid/ incentivized reviews and fake reviews that can persuade and dissuade customers, this is undeniable. The Verge itself is investigating the issue as are many other informative well-known sites. So there is a need to address the issue. Amazon has its own safeguards in place and a similar proprietary App but for whatever reason, they are not foolproof as there are still plenty of misleading reviews to be found across the retail platform. 

Fakespot is regularly cited when it comes to fraudulent amazon reviews and as a major critic of Amazon’s review system, they have been dealt a pretty big blow. Evidently, Amazon is worried, but it could be for all the wrong reasons, which is the problem. The company recently bought all of the search ads containing the keyword “Fakespot” in the App Store in an effort to reduce the app’s impact:

Image credit: theverge.com

“Amazon is willing to bully little companies like ours that showcase the cracks in their company,” Khalifah says, suggesting Amazon must have realized people were choosing their app over the Amazon app. There is a high consumer demand for something like Fakespot to be in place. The app had over 150,000 installs from the iOS App Store, without any major marketing campaign.

But, Amazon claims that the majority of Fakespot’s ratings are incorrect. They say they carry out regular company audits to determine fake reviews. Amazon says that when they compared their findings with Fakespots’ that the apps’ untrustworthy review warnings were wrong more than 80% of the time. Amazon boils this down to simply having more information than the App such as reviewer, seller, and product history.  Therefore they are more accurate in determining a review’s authenticity. 

The Android version of the Fakespot app hasn’t seen an update since 2019 and as yet Amazon has not disclosed whether or not it has contacted Google in regards to removing it.

Fakespot is currently weighing up its legal options. They strongly believe mobile shopping will be ever prevalent in the future and the need for transparency with review information is a major concern. “We’re seeing percentages of 60/40 now hovering in mobile’s favor,” Khalifah told The Verge.

Adding that Fakespot “ will explore all the options they have available”.