Most discussion of fake reviews – including on our blog – is about illegitimate good or bad reviews on websites such as Yelp. But a recent string of false reviews from employees of Canada’s largest telecommunications company has shined light on the practice of a new-ish trend of false app reviews.

On Thanksgiving Day in the United States, reported that several Bell Canada employees were caught writing “glowing” five-star reviews for the company’s newly launched mobile app. According to the article, Bell Canada released this new app – where customers can check data usage and account balances – on Nov. 18, and initial feedback on the App Store had been less than favorable.

Scott Stratten, the president of a Canadian marketing company and an influential writer/internet personality, reportedly found several gushing reviews about the apps (for example, “Awesome app! Love it!”). The Bell Canada employees who wrote the reviews did not attempt to shield their identities, as is typically the case with false positive reviews.

As a result of these efforts to boost the ratings of the Bell Canada app, the reviews have been removed.

According to section 3.10 of Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines, Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart rankings in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program.”

This could be a significant punishment for many app developers, though not as likely for a major company such as Bell Canada.

Importance of high ratings leads to bad behavior

Just as good ratings and reviews on websites such as Yelp are crucial to many businesses today, so too can App Store ratings be for companies with apps (especially those built around apps) — higher ratings equals higher visibility, which equals higher downloads.

The App Store is four years Yelp’s junior, and is seeing a similar rise in popularity. Just as Yelp reached the point a few years ago when readership became extremely high and Yelp pages began ranking very highly on Google, Apple products (e.g. iPhones and iPads) are rather ubiquitous and the App Store is generating extremely high traffic.

Accordingly, having a popular app is important for most developers. And, as with anything else, this influences a sizable percentage of people to try to game the system and try to get a leg up on the competition. Then these bad actors begin getting caught.

As a result of fake reviews, Apple has recently been removing these reviews from its App Store, according to TechCrunch. Back in June 2014, TechCrunch first reported the crackdown by Apple against fake ratings. Much like false reviews on any other website, they are often easy to spot. For example, overly positive reviews seem fishy, but even more so an influx of five-star ratings raises red flags.

This Bell Canada story serves as yet another reminder not to post false reviews anywhere, whether false negative reviews about a competitor or false positive reviews about one’s own company (or hiring others to post such reviews). The immediate consequences – even if it is not illegal to post such reviews – are not worth it, including potential PR risks.