Amazon has gotten Fakespot, a popular service on the web that works to identify fake reviews on the e-commerce platform, kicked off the Apple App Store. The incident has pitted two of the biggest giants in the tech industry against a small company, and Fakespot is crying foul.
As reported by the Verge on Friday, the problem began with a new update to the Fakespot app that Amazon claimed could be exploited to steal its customers’ data. Amazon reached out to Apple on June 8 and asked it to take down the app. Apple proceeded to make Amazon and Fakespot try to resolve the issue themselves. That apparently didn’t work, and on Friday, Apple removed Fakespot from the App Store, an action that Fakespot says is Apple siding with Amazon without any proof.
Both Apple and Fakespot founder and CEO Saoud Khalifah confirmed to Gizmodo that this was a dispute initiated by Amazon.
“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,” Apple told Gizmodo on Saturday. “On June 29, we again reached out to Fakespot weeks before removing their app from the App Store.”
Gizmodo reached out to Amazon multiple times on Friday and Saturday to ask for comment on this issue, but we did not receive a response by the time of publication. We’ll make sure to update this blog if we do.
According to the Verge, Amazon had various grievances against Fakespot. When it comes to Apple’s App Store, Amazon believed Fakespot—which also has browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, as well as an app for Android—violated guideline 5.2.2 on third-party sites and services. The guideline reads as follows on Apple’s website:
Amazon also told the outlet that Fakespot “injects” code into its website, which opens it up to attack and puts customer data, including email, addresses, credit card information, and browser history, at risk. However, Amazon admitted that it doesn’t know if Fakespot is using this information.
“The app in question provides customers with misleading information about our sellers and their products, harms our sellers’ businesses, and creates potential security risks,” Amazon said in a statement to the Verge. “We appreciate Apple’s review of this app against its App Store guidelines.”
In addition, Amazon alleges that Fakespot doesn’t even work all that well, stating that the company’s ratings of untrustworthy product reviews were wrong more than 80% of the time. Amazon said that it, in turn, does have accurate information to determine whether a review is real or false. In June, Amazon did state that fake reviews were an issue, but argued that it was devoting significant resources to address it. The company said that it stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews in 2020 before they were ever seen by a customer.
On the other side of the dispute is Khalifah, Fakespot’s founder and CEO, who maintains that Amazon is in the wrong and that many of its allegations have no grounds. Khalifah spoke to Gizmodo on the phone on Friday and called Amazon’s claim that it could steal users’ personal information “absolute rubbish,” adding that the company does not monetize by selling user data and never would.
He also stated that he does not believe Fakespot violated the App Store guideline Amazon says it has breached.
“We’re in our complete right to be able to specify our independent opinion on reviews and on sellers, and we are here to bring the best trusted information for our consumers,” Khalifah said. “This is the whole premise behind Fakespot and the mission that we have as a company. Any kind of spin on that, that we’re violating regulations and things like that, [is false and] open for interpretation. In this case, Amazon’s interpretation can be that we’re violating this, but they have provided no proof that we do.”
Khalifah also denies Amazon’s claim that “injecting” code is a security risk. He maintained that Fakespot renders Amazon’s website inside its app, which is the same thing it did in its previous app that was on the App Store for many years. In response to Amazon’s claim that Fakespot is wrong more than 80% of the time, Khalifah said the company came up with that number “out of thin air.”
Fakespot started out as Khalifah’s personal side project in college after he got scammed in 2014. Since then, more than 25 million users have used Fakespot. The app had more than 150,000 users, with zero marketing push, on iOS before it was taken down, he said.
“If Amazon did their job, there would be no need for my company [or] anyone else’s company that provides analysis on these reviews,” Khalifah said. “And people would have no doubt that the reviews they’re reading on Amazon are real. But unfortunately, there is doubt and there is a spread of misinformation on that platform and there’s a massive amount of fake reviews.”
He’s not wrong—there are fake reviews on Amazon. Last September, Amazon deleted about 20,000 reviews by seven of its top 10 reviewers in the United Kingdom after the Financial Times found that they were making a profit by giving products five-star ratings.
Khalifah said the takedown would affect Fakespot in a significant way because it’s spent a lot of time and resources on it. The company will explore all options available to it to get its app reinstated on the App Store, and in the meantime will continue to work on its apps on other platforms and browser extensions.
At the moment, Khalifah said he has not received any news that Amazon had taken its complaints to Google, which is where Fakespot’s Chrome browser extension and Android app live. It’s probably more than likely to happen, he said.
“I spent six years of my life building Fakespot, the last six years. It’s super disappointing to see this kind of result,” Khalifah said. “I just feel like, you know, this is not the way things should be like. And we should not have these kingdoms, so to speak, deciding who should be in and who should be out of their platforms.”