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Apple has a problem with user reviews: It does not matter (yet)

Most of what I write for VentureBeat is factual or fact-based analysis, but sometimes I share my subjective opinion, which is backed by details with some gray areas. This is one of those situations.

I do not think Apple values ​​user ratings, at least not at the executive level. Another possibility is that the company's executives do not really care about what individual users say about what they sell, unless those opinions have a negative impact on their revenue. However, I readily admit (and explain below) that the evidence in this point is mixed.

Regardless of the reasons, Apple's apparent lack of interest in user reviews in the past week alone has twice become a conspicuous problem. At some point in the last few days, just before the Christmas shopping season, all reviews were abruptly removed from the online store. And today the Washington Post announced that Apple has ignored over 1

,500 App Store reviews, which warned that sexual predators use certain iOS apps to contact underage users.

After many years of reporting both the company and this particular topic, I can tell you that. It's more important than you think, but it's also a more complicated situation than it can be summarized quickly or superficially. Therefore, I will do my best to explain why this is an actual problem for Apple and its users and what can be done about it.

Apple controls what many users see about its products.

Apple has established itself as the exclusive provider of apps for most devices as well as a major provider of first and third party accessories. Users who want iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, or watchOS apps have no choice but to purchase them from the Apple App Store. Similarly, Apple sells a significant portion of the accessories consumers buy for Apple devices. Some of these depend on apps available only in the above app stores.

As a result, users do not intend to buy anything directly from Apple they come to the website and stores to find out about the products. In some cases, z. For example, for accessories available exclusively from the Apple Store, there may be no other place on the Internet to review reviews of these products.

Despite its active role in managing its ecosystems, Apple does not appear to have such a far-reaching responsibility for accessing user reviews, especially its own products. Years ago, the company openly prevented Apple Store customers from evaluating Apple products, claiming that every Apple product earns five stars.

Above: Apple's own products often received a mediocre quality rating despite their high prices and the company's design assurance.

Credit: Jeremy Horwitz / VentureBeat

After Apple changed this policy, users flooded the store with numerous less than 5-star ratings for Apple accessories that reveal problems with slightly damaged cables and earbuds and performance reveal defects and other signs of poor design or quality standards. Until this week you could see these reviews before you bought a product. From now on, however, they have completely disappeared. You were taken through a pop-up window labeled "Are you looking for something?" Replaces that does not redirect you to a rating archive.

User reviews help alert potential customers to product issues and make Apple "honest" by revealing details that may not be addressed in its marketing. When Apple retrieves these reviews from its website, it poses a generally positive prospect for potential customers and may mislead them.

Some people might argue that Apple is under no obligation to take the risk of compromising the sale of its products by sharing users' opinions about its store pages. This is clearly the fear that has driven the company to block negative valuations in the past. You can always look elsewhere, it says in the argument.

Unfortunately, Apple has worked actively to make itself the dominant source of information for its products and to punish independent alternatives that did not meet its mandates. In recent years, the company has virtually killed third-party alternatives, such as AppShopper and TouchArcade, by either banning them from their stores or starving out their affiliate earnings. As a result, the company has found a variety of Apple-related user reviews elsewhere has become challenging. Authorized Apple retailers like Amazon and Best Buy may not have reviews for accessories. Even if users could find them with Google searches, there are not many other places where user reviews are grouped together, and trusted independent review pages are few and far between.

Even apps can endanger users.

The problem with the App Store is not that Apple removes or censors user reviews, but completely ignores them, even if they contain important information about the security of apps or their users. As the Post report notes, several "random chat apps" have become haven sanctuaries to reach out to children with sexual desires and content. Using basic machine learning tools, the Post found numerous reports on the issue in the App Store reviews, but Apple – the first company to receive every report, and a trillion-dollar company, had all the automated and manual resources Obviously, "I can not help it."

Above: reviews of just one "random live chat" app that's online today evidence for this point. I can imagine any apology from an apologist for this situation – there are too many apps to read, too many reviews to read or no reason to read posts that are mostly crazy, but Apple has been selling products for 43 years and has been running its iOS App Store for 11 years. Checking keywords for keywords can have a highlighted "Report a problem" button in or next to each "Write review" button If it had ever cared, it would already have been done.

But that did not happen. Similar to how users who report software beta bugs with the Feedback Assistant or have trouble reaching someone in the business who cares when a massive FaceTime privacy breach is detected, it still feels like Apple In fact, there is more than one simple answer – not to mention actual corrective action – requiring access to the media, and even then there must be enough media to create a real stench. If Apple actually took care of monitoring users' statements, it would not be necessary.

But user reviews are not necessarily reliable.

Ideally, potential customers might consider objective evaluations by independent, well-rated clients trained experts, rather than relying largely on the ad hoc conclusions of random people. However, as the growth of Yelp and the decline in professional restaurant reviews show, easily controlled user reviews have become popular, although their credibility is unclear.

Above: Who really knows who is behind a user-submitted rating?

is itself a problem. Even if a person's name is appended to a review, you do not know who posted it, what their agenda might look like, and how it came to its conclusions. There's plenty of historical evidence to manipulate small and large scores – ratings submitted on their own or in bulk to improve or compromise a product's ratings – a problem that Amazon fixed years ago by rating some reviews Added purchase confirmation badge and then displayed verified ratings first.

Having moderated user comments in the past, I know that appraisers have tried every possible answer, from hand-picked or promoted reviews to manual approvals or deletions, as well as introducing burdens to prevent a quick or computer-based review Publication of ratings. I also know that many, if not most, users have come to the conclusion that a single user rating is of questionable accuracy. Therefore, it is advisable to create several reviews to get a better sense of "the truth".

Start Care

It will not be easy to get Apple to really care about user reviews. I am convinced that the company employs thousands of subordinates who really care about the opinions of customers, but who can only communicate these messages in a chain, and who hope that they will be addressed at higher levels. The real obstacles are the many reviews and comments Apple receives on a daily basis and the executives who in the past have been proud to know their customers' needs before they even get worded. It then takes years before they are confronted with contradictory evidence.

There is a clear solution to this problem: proper validation and validation of user ratings using machine learning. Internal mandates include daily employee-level reviews and weekly executive reviews. If Mail can use machine learning to search reviews for reports of illegal or inappropriate in-app content, Apple can do the same. Already in March, Apple was looking for an analyst who crawls complaints about Siri. So, if no one or a team of people is already doing this for the App Store, it's time to show the "Help Wanted" sign.

Similarly, Apple should use credit-card-based Apple IDs and / or proof of purchase for questions about the integrity of users posting Apple Store reviews to better secure the service. Normally I would call this point obvious, but aside from such concerns, I can not imagine any other valid reason for Apple to abruptly remove user reviews from its website.

It is quite possible that Apple explains removing user reviews by saying that cares so much about their accuracy that it introduces a better system. However, I do not think it's a coincidence that the company removed user reviews from its website at the beginning of its holiday marketing campaign, without a superior substitute-or anything at all. Just like iOS, Apple would not stop users from using a problematic release just because a better version would be available soon. What users are saying about what it sells. Ignoring or removing these feelings can increase sales in the short term, but it is not a good solution for the long-term health of the company or its users.

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