Sock(-puppet)ing it to Apple’s iPhone App Store

Sometimes Apple is not to blame for everything, though I would like to think there is a way they can put a sock in this problem.

Gagan Biyani writing for MobileCrunch reports on the latest problem to hit Apple’s iPhone App Store: completely fake reviews planted there by PR firms.

Reverb Communications is a PR firm retained by some of the companies which sell iPhone applications in the App Store. The firm touts “first party” and “personal” relationships with Apple. Those claims, of course, are spun so much, most of us mere mortals that don’t work in PR risk nausea from the resulting dizziness embodied therein. Because what Reverb actually means is that they have a bunch of fake identities that can log into the App Store and post fake reviews. Yeah, that’s not exactly what comes to mind when I hear of “first party” and “personal” relationships.

How did we finally find out that Reverb lacks scruples and decency? Through an anonymous developer referred to in the article as only “Developer Y” (assumably because “Publisher X” had just been used in the preceding paragraph). From a document sent from Reverb to Developer Y (quoted in the original article):

Reverb employs a small team of interns who are focused on managing online message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keeping a gauge on the online communities. Reverb uses the interns as a sounding board to understand the new mediums where consumers are learning about products, hearing about hot new games and listen to the thoughts of our targeted audience. Reverb will use these interns on Developer Y products to post game reviews (written by Reverb staff members) ensuring the majority of the reviews will have the key messaging and talking points developed by the Reverb PR/marketing team.

But it gets even better. Reverb actually works with Apple, having done at least one TV commercial for them. Further, at least one of Reverb’s referrals actually came from an Apple employee.

Reverb’s official statement when confronted with this? Hang on tight, because the Tilt-a-Whirl is starting up again. Doug Kennedy wrote back to MobileCrunch in essence fingering a “disgruntled former employee who is violating his confidentiality agreement.”

I’m pretty sure confidentiality agreements don’t cover illegal activity, and what Reverb is doing here at least borders on fraud. At the very least it’s patently devoid of any scruples, honesty, and ethics. And PR firms and the people that work for them wonder why they are sometimes viewed as less trustworthy.

Shame on Reverb. If you work in PR, please don’t do what they did. The world, and the reputation of your profession, will be much better off.

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