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Fake positive reviews are flooding Google Play’s most popular apps

Why it matters to you

When it comes to downloading apps and user reviews, ratings aren't everything, especially if they are fake.

Fending off the inevitable onslaught of fake reviews and ratings is a common concern for every online marketplace, and it appears Google once again has some work to do, despite the company’s best efforts.

Bots are flooding Google Play’s most popular apps with positive fake reviews lately, according to a report from The Next Web. The issue first arose in mid-March, when WhatsApp was discovered to have received a litany of suspicious comments and praise, all commending the app’s “fun” and “entertaining” games.

The commonalities between all the reviews in question were that they were terribly written and tended to reference games — as well as Amazon’s Kindle Fire, strangely enough. Now, it seems other apps claiming high numbers of users have been hit with similar spam.

The Next Web cited data from App Annie, showing a spike in numbers of reviews for Facebook Messenger, Google Chrome, Gmail, and Firefox mentioning words like “game” and “Kindle.” Unsurprisingly, all the reviews in question are rated at five stars, and the overwhelming majority cropped up within the last month. But the report alleges that more recently the bot has gotten better at hiding its attacks by peppering the five-star reviews with occasional four-star ones as well.

It’s been speculated that the targeting of popular apps is a strategy to lend some legitimacy to the bot’s paid-for reviews left on less well-known apps. App Annie’s data shows the affected apps boast a similar frequency of suspicious posts, practically all of which are attributed to “A Google User” or no one at all.

Google has yet to speak out on the matter, but it is a pretty safe bet the company won’t receive the news warmly. In October, it began cracking down by punishing apps and developers that benefitted from paid reviews. Google started limiting visibility of these apps in lists and rankings and threatened to shut down accounts entirely after repeat offenses.