App review fraud is a serious issue for both developers and app stores, but Bogdan Popsecu, the developer behind the popular Dash tool, says Apple went too far in closing his account and banning him. This is a mess.
Last week, Apple removed Dash, a developer tool, from the App Store. It explained to Popsecu several days later that his account was suspended due to the manipulation of app reviews (writing negative reviews for competing apps and writing praiseworthy reviews for his own). Popsecu believes a misunderstanding is afoot and claims to have proof of his innocence.
First, Apple's side. "Almost 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected across two accounts and 25 apps for this developer so we removed their apps and accounts from the App Store," explained Apple in a statement provided to iMore. "Warning was given in advance of the termination and attempts were made to resolve the issue with the developer but they were unsuccessful." Apple says it contacted the developer as long as two years ago. "We will terminate developer accounts for ratings and review fraud, including actions designed to hurt other developers. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, on behalf of all of our customers and developers."
This sounds like a reasonable response if that's truly what happened. Popsecu's side of the story is decidedly different.
He says he set up and paid for a relative's Apple Developer Program Membership with his own credit card several years ago. He even went so far as to loan the relative some of his old equipment. Since both accounts were financed by the same credit card, Apple linked the accounts without explaining as much to Popsecu. It was this second account that began to manipulate reviews.
"I was not aware my account was linked to another until Apple contacted me Friday, two days after closing my account. I was never notified of any kind of wrongdoing before my account was terminated," wrote Popsecu in a blog post. "[Apple] told me they’d reactivate my account if I’d make a blog post admitting some wrongdoing. I told them I can’t do that, because I did nothing wrong. On Saturday, they told me that they are fine with me writing the truth about what happened, and that if I did that, my account would be restored. Saturday night I sent a blog post draft to Apple. Tonight, Apple decided to accuse me of manipulating the App Store in public via a spokesperson" through the statement provided to iMore (above).
Popsecu claims to have an ace in the hole pricing his innocence: he recorded a phone call with Apple's developer support staff that implies Apple is in the wrong.
In the recording, the rep says Apple vice president of marketing Phil Schiller is "upset about this and he wants to make it right for you and for Apple. He wants to make it clear that we didn't make a mistake here, right? We're confident in the investigations that we did that there was fraud. It wasn't on your direct account, it was on a linked account. We did provide warnings to that account and we turned them off."
Apple hasn't responded to requests for comments about the recorded phone call.
It would behoove Popsecu to reach out to his relative (if he hasn't already) to see exactly what he/she has been up to with the developer account for which he paid. Popsecu implied he has no been in contact with the relative since the account was first opened. That leaves open the possibility that this linked account did in fact perpetuate review fraud without his knowledge.
Any way you look at it, this is a sticky and unfortunate situation for all involved.