Fake app reviews have long been a problem on Google Play as well as on the Apple App Store. While the two tech giants have taken several steps over the years to filter out fake reviews from their respective app stores, a disturbing new phenomenon is increasingly becoming more noticeable on the Indian version of the Google Play Store. Outright spam, masquerading as reviews, are becoming visibly more common at the top of the reviews section of many legitimate and reputable apps from India. We've been handed a tip with recent evidence of this. Most of these ‘reviews’ are in broken English, and have a few things in common. They are apparently promoting some obscure and seemingly questionable apps, with names like ‘Skrilo’ or ‘Don’. These apps claim to offer money in the form of PayTM cash to users for watching ads or participating in promos and deals.
What’s even more alarming is that the spam posts are very often filed under female names with profile photos of women who are unlikely to be aware that their images are being used without their consent; and that too, for questionable purposes. While these apps have a reasonably high rating on the Play Store, it’s not entirely clear how legitimate they really are. Either way, the problem lies with the way they structure their rewards. Most of these apps claim to offer extra cash for getting new people to download and install their software. Although that, in itself, is not entirely different from what many reputable companies such as Uber or Amazon do as part of their own affiliate programs. While Uber in India offers discounts to users for getting others to sign-up using unique affiliate IDs, Amazon offers gift vouchers for getting ‘friends’ to make purchases on its website as part of its referral program.
However, an unintended consequence of this methodology is that people looking to make a quick buck are now spamming various internet forums, chatrooms and even the Play Store reviews section, asking people to sign-up with their own affiliate IDs (very often their mobile phone number). As can be seen in the included screenshots, many of the reviews for popular and reputable apps, such as IRCTC, ClearTrip, BookMyShow, CrickBuzz and Saavn are nothing but spam. One has to scroll a long way down to see actual reviews, and even then they are interspersed with further spam. It couldn’t immediately be confirmed whether Google is aware of the problem, but even if the company is taking steps to rectify the situation and delete such spam from its reviews section, at least some are obviously slipping through the ranks. It remains to be seen if Google can actually get a grip on this situation going forward.