In a non-shocking development, it turns out that some of the 5 star reviews of apps for Apple’s iPhone are fakes. What is somewhat more interesting is the fact that Apple removed over 1,000 apps from the Chinese developer Molinker on the basis of evidence of such review tampering.
While buying advertising to push products in dubious ways is considered generally acceptable, such fake reviews are clearly morally wrong. First, they are deceptions that are intended to mislead people and thus inherit the morally wrongness of such deceit. Second, they are deceptions aimed at tricking people out of their money and hence can be seen as playing a role in a sort of theft of stars. Put roughly, the customer thinks s/he is buying a 5 star product when, in fact, s/he is buying something less. This is somewhat analogous to buying a product that promises certain features but, in fact, lacks them. Or, to use a better analogy, it is like an inferior hotel trying to pass itself off as a 5 star hotel.
It might be argued that such practices are all part of free enterprise. After all, one way to make a profits is via the manipulation of information and the inflation of value. Such tactics helped bring us the housing bubble and are still being used-no doubt to set up the next bubble of wealth. Since “profit is the measure of right”, this sort of thing is fine. The only mistake is, of course, getting caught.
Of course, the reply to this is easy enough: while such deceits can profit those engaged in them, they create far more general harm. As such, such deception is not acceptable.
This incident does show one positive aspect of the App Store. To be specific, since Apple currently controls the distribution of iPhone apps, they can deal with such misdeeds. Apple can also put the apps through some degree of quality testing and can (presumably) check for malicious code in the programs. Best of all, at least from Apple’s perspective, is the fact that Apple gets a slice of every penny spent on the App Store.
Apple is thus like Hobbe’s Sovereign: they rule over the land of Apps with an iron fist so as to keep order (and profits).
Of course, there are clear downsides to such a tyranny. First, developers have to deal with Apple’s somewhat mysterious and often onerous system of app approval. While this can keep some crap out, this also means that developers have to deal with yet one more obstacle in getting their software out to the public. Second, it restricts the user’s choices and options. A user can have any app s/he wants, provided that it available on the app store. But, if a user wants to install an app that is not approved or even if s/he would rather not have to use the App Store, then s/he has two options: jailbreak the iPod/Phone or do without. There are apparently some rather good and useful apps out there that Apple deemed unworthy of its store (although they do allow things like a soft porn virtual girlfriend program).
While I do see the benefits of an Apple tyranny over the iPhone apps (especially for Apple), I think that the iPhone (and iPod Touch) should be able to load any app the user wishes to install. After all, we have that freedom with our computers and there seems to be no reason (other than Apple’s profits) as to why the same liberty should not be brought to the iPhone. Naturally, users would be wise to be cautious about what they put on their iPhone but the freedom to do stupid things (that do not harm others) is an essential freedom.