Fakespot, a mobile app that analyzes customer reviews on Amazon and other online retailers, disappeared from Apple’s App Store on Friday following a complaint from Amazon that the service was misleading to customers, harmful to sellers and a potential privacy risk.
Fakespot also offers web browser extensions and says it uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to analyze reviews on products. But Amazon said Fakespot’s Secure Shopping App for iOS, which launched on June 3, was “wrapping” the Amazon website and “injecting code and content” into the site and that its findings about the trustworthiness of product reviews were mostly wrong.
“The app in question provides customers with misleading information about our sellers and their products, harms our sellers’ businesses, and creates potential security risks,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement provided to GeekWire. “We appreciate Apple’s review of this app against its App Store guidelines.”
Fakespot founder and CEO Saoud Khalifah told The Verge that he was given no way to resolve the situation and avoid a takedown, which he said was initiated by Amazon in mid-June. An email from Apple to Fakespot reportedly said that the company regretted that the situation couldn’t be resolved amicably and that Fakespot has now been removed from the App Store.
“We just dedicated months of resources and time and money into this app,” Khalifah told The Verge.
Update: Friday evening, Apple issued a statement to GeekWire about the action it took:
“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,” the company said. “On June 29, we again reached out to Fakespot weeks before removing their app from the App Store.”
Amazon argued that by inserting itself into the Amazon website, Fakespot was putting customer email addresses, passwords, physical address, credit card information, and browsing behavior at risk. The company said it has a “high bar” for security that Fakespot was not meeting.
“We use powerful machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyze over 30 million review submissions weekly, aiming to stop abusive reviews before they are ever published,” Amazon said.
Khalifah admitted to The Verge that the Fakespot does inject code to display its own review scores, but he denied that there was any security risk.
“This is the Amazon shopping experience as it should be,” Khalifah said in a news release when the app launched. “With the Fakespot Secure Shopping app, people can use their phones to shop a full version of Amazon’s mobile site, logging in to their account and purchasing directly from our app. Their account and payment information remains 100% secure — we don’t have access to account or payment data. The difference is the fake reviews, counterfeits, and sketchy sellers are eliminated from the shopping experience.”
Amazon also argued Fakespot’s attempts to rate sellers and their products without any of the analytics that Amazon uses is harmful to brands and businesses. Amazon said it audited Fakespot itself, and found their rating of reviews were wrong more than 80% of the time due to Fakespot’s lack of information around reviews, sellers and product history.
Khalifah told The Verge that Fakespot had racked up 150,000 installs from the App Store.