Apple App Store icon

Fakespot claimed 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 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 his app is designed to highlight.

“It’s a consumer right to know when you’re reading a fake review, if you’re getting 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 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. 

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Khalifah’s accusations.