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Amazon convinced Apple to remove review detector Fakespot from the App Store

Amazon says the app is inaccurate and creates security risks. Fakespot says Amazon is scared of its app exposing fake reviews.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
Expertise E-commerce | Amazon | Earned wage access | Online marketplaces | Direct to consumer | Unions | Labor and employment | Supply chain | Cybersecurity | Privacy | Stalkerware | Hacking Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie Award for a single article in consumer technology
Ian Sherr
Laura Hautala
3 min read
Apple App Store icon

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

Apple; illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

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 [and] harms our sellers' businesses" when it grades products and sellers on a scale separate from Amazon's own reviews system. Amazon also said it wasn't able to verify what Fakespot "is or is not doing, today or in the future, which is why this is a security risk."

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 said this was "a dispute over intellectual property rights initiated by Amazon on June 8" and that Apple attempted to work with both companies to resolve the issue. Apple said it also reached out to Fakespot again on June 29 before removing the app.

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.