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Apple Drops Cheating iPhone Developer

David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Apple has had their challenges policing the iTunes Apps store and has often been accused of moving slowly - but the Chinese developer Molinker learned the hard way that when pushed Apple will take decisive action.  Even though they had over 1,000 iPhone applications, they were busted for scamming the system.

The old saying is that "cheaters never prosper" but the companion statement, that the Internet has proven, is that "cheaters never stop trying!"  Apple developer Molinker was kicked out of the iTunes store for setting up a process whereby hundreds of false reviews were written about their applications.  Even though 1,000 applications was close to 1% of the App Store inventory, Apple took a large knife and cut them all out of the App Store in one fell swoop.

Molinker's review strategy was so successful that they even had one of their applications, ColorMagic, on the front page listed as a staff favorite (I'd hate to be that staff person - if in fact there really are staff "picking" these top applications).  This app had more than 200 5-star reviews and 91 1-star reviews.  There were no 2, 3 or 4 star reviews - you had an extrememly polarized perspective on this application. The 1-star ratings wre not that hard to understand as Molinker's applications were simply photo logs and copycat apps.  What was amazing were the 200+ 5-star reviews for this review which got a number of people wondering about the validity of these comments.

The iPhone photography blog Iphoneography coordinated and publicized the research that was then sent to Apple.   When several of their members looked through the applications offered by Molinker they noticed that  more than 90% of the reviews on some of their applications appeared to be written people who only reviewed Molinker applications.  Not a one of them had ever reviewed any other iPhone application.  Once they’d managed to accumulate enough data that the scamming was undeniable, iPhoneography sent a report of their findings off to Apple’s VP, Phil Schiller. After a week of no reply from Apple, iPhoneography wrote again, and this time received a reply directly from Schiller which said "Yes, this developer's apps have been removed from the App Store and their ratings no longer appear either."

Molinker is playing dumb with the comment "We got email from Apple which told us our contract is changed to pending status. Actually, we do not know what's wrong so far. We had contacted Apple for such sudden changes, hope we can get quick response and actions from Apple." 

Some developers see this as yet another example the power that Apple has over those that sell in its exclusive marketplace. Molinker was punished for cheating, but the paranoid developers wonder if  Apple could pull the same application removal on any developer, for any reason.  While that risk is there - these developers started writing code knowing about Apple's rules.  The solution is simple - if you don't like Apple's rules then go play elsewhere.

Apple has had their share of issues reviewing iPhone apps, but in this case they have struck a big blow that can only encourage honest marketing on the Internet.  Kudos to them and 1,000 slimy apps off the shelf!

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