Ill-Chosen Tweet Storm Marketing Scheme Reveals Sinecure Might Be Gaming The iTunes Review System

Ill-Chosen Tweet Storm Marketing Scheme Reveals Sinecure Might Be Gaming The iTunes Review System

Earlier this morning I was the unwitting recipient of a storm of spam tweets from Sinecure Industries’ Michael Mizov (@MikeMizov).

Only one of the 50+ tweets @MikeMizov spammed out thus far (it is still continuing), was actually directly addressed to me:

@OTGGamer Hi Brett, you don’t seem to be very addicted to @SinecureInd ‘s apps. Is he, @SeanFlanagan ? We never even talk anymore :(

No doubt, a poorly conceived marketing scheme (I’ve unfollowed all of Sinecure’s twitter accounts), it actually shed some light on some possible shenanigans the company has been engaged in with respect to iTunes reviews.

So sorry Michael, what great new app from Sinecure Industries did I miss?

Despite the terrible marking method, I thought that perhaps I had missed something, so I searched up ‘Sinecure’ on the App Store and all I could find for recent releases was last month’s Vision Assist: Ambient Night Vision Aid, yet another average looking light/flashlight app with a bunch of marketing speak thrown into the app description to try to make it sound new and engaging, because it didn’t JUST use the LED light…that would be TOO BRIGHT!

Then I saw the App Store reviews…TEN 5-STAR REVIEWS???!!!

All with glowing comments like:

“All the other night vision apps use the camera and try to make it an effect, instead of actually letting you see in the dark. Guess what? When it’s dark, the camera can’t see either! This one actually lights up the room just enough to see without shocking your eyes like those “flashlight” apps. That’s all I ask, and this one delivers.”


“Works perfectly, great job”

The problem is, those two reviews I just quoted above were from “Sean Flanagan” and “Micheal Mizov” (respectively), the actual co-creators of the app, the guys who run Sinecure Industries! The Developers are reviewing their own app (and it is not the first time they’ve done so).

When called on this, “Michael Mizov” tweeted “Well, I made it every other tweet. And why can’t we review our own app?”. I’m fairly certain that Apple frowns upon this (if not outright forbids it). I mean come on, if given the option, what developer wouldn’t give themselves a 5-star review. If you had a 100 person development team, are they ALL allowed to give 5-star reviews (without revealing the fact they worked on the app)? This still doesn’t address the fact that nowhere in their reviews do Mizov or Flanagan they state they are the developers, instead they pose like ordinary customers.

Another of the 5-star reviewer’s names is “Mikeysautie”, which I am guessing is a relative as well. In fact, nearly all of the ten 5-star reviewers have pretty much ONLY ever reviewed other apps in Sinecure’s catalog, always bestowing upon them high praises and 5-star reviews! Yes, these reviewers did buy teh app in order to leave a review, and so yes they are entitled to leave a review, but one has to wonder if they ever even launched the app before giving it 5 stars.

I know that indie devs need to have a way to get their apps noticed, but gaming the system by having the devs themselves, as well as friends and family give your app 5 star reviews in iTunes is not the way to do it. Frankly I’m really disappointed to see Sinecure stoop to this level and hopefully they will be removing any/all of these bogus reviews. We bloggers need to reveal that there is a possibility that we received an app for free when we reviewed it, so why shouldn’t developers have to reveal that they created an app if they decide to review it on the app store?

What are your thoughts, should Apple lay down the ban hammer on developers for engaging in behaviors like this (especially repeat offenders)?

8 comments on “Ill-Chosen Tweet Storm Marketing Scheme Reveals Sinecure Might Be Gaming The iTunes Review System
  1. This is Sean Flanagan of Sinecure Industries, cited in the article. Here's the truth: Mike and I do review every app we put out in an attempt to try to get the ball rolling on reviews. But our marketing is all word of mouth, with the occasional press release. We use twitter, Facebook, and occasionally the help of sites like these to try to get noticed in a sea of millions of apps. In the course of that, we do tell people we know. They sometimes feel like they want to help us out and write a review as well. We don't force them to, especially if they don't like it. And we also get reviews from people we've never met, just like anyone else. Believe it or not, they sometimes give us 5-star reviews, too!

    The fact is that we're really small. It's just Mike and me getting together maybe once a month to work on things, putting out an app every few months if we can. We're not trying to game the system or make a boatload of money, we're just having some fun creating apps. If we had 1,000 reviews and two of them were us, nobody would notice or care. It wouldn't matter, and it wouldn't affect the overall rating of an app. But when Mike sends out some tweets to say, "Hey, haven't heard from you in a while," suddenly we're villains with a grand marketing scheme trying to game the system with our 10 total reviews. And we're only one of thousands of developers who try the same ideas.

    Normally I wouldn't comment on something like this, but normally we don't get articles written about us, especially with such negativity and accusation. But as a result, I hope it sheds some light on what is a common practice on the app store, and how difficult it can be for a small-time developer to get noticed at all.


    PS As an aside, I would like to point out that the description of Vision Assist is not, in fact, marketing speak, and the derisive commentary about it is unnecessary. Vision Assist is not intended to be a flashlight at all (though we did include one for utility). We actually researched the way the eye senses light frequencies, and optimized the various "modes" so as to be easy on the eyes in extreme darkness where the bright LED would be jarring. The light frequencies we use correspond to peak and minimum sensitivities in the rod and cone structures in the eye. If you wish to review the app as intended, we invite you to do so.

    • Sean, Thank you for taking the time to respond to the article in a candid and civilized way.

      Though I am not an app developer myself, believe when I say that I completely understand the struggle you guys have to get your app noticed. I've talked to many indie devs over the years and try to help them out if/whenever I can. As I try to grow this site, I struggle with many of the same issues of getting noticed amongst a see of larger sites.

      As I said, I honestly don't know for certain if it against Apple has rules against a dev reviewing their own app in iTunes, but it is obviously a huge conflict of interest. That is why Apple removed the ability to review an app in iTunes from people purchasing said app with a promo code. What I take issue with this situation, and why I called you guys out in particular, is the way you went about it, wording your comment like you are a regular customer and not the developer. You should have clearly stated that you were the dev instead of trying to pass yourself off as a customer.

      While I'd really hope that this is not, as you said "common practice on the app store", I'd be naive not to this this isn't happening elsewhere. So sure, I agree that, other (likely bigger) developers are guilty of this as well and probably on a larger scale. However, just because others are doing it, you don't have to. Even though you may feel like you've got the greatest app ever (and it may be) it's your baby so you are seeing it with blinders on.

      When the ratio of friend/family reviews to average joe reviews tips severely in favor of the developer, the consumer runs the risk of being duped. That's where I take issue, as many people use the iTunes ratings system as their sole criteria for buying apps.

      Developers need to resist the temptation to "jump off the bridge" and take a path that is less morally gray.

  2. Did he only leave 1 review? What exactly is wrong with that? Don't presidential candidates get to vote for themselves?

    • This is a completely different situation.

      To use your analogy, the presidential candidate doesn't go into the voting booth disguised as one of your peers spouting his (the candidate's) praises to get you to vote for him. He doesn't have his family and cabinet members dress up like regular people cheering him on as they go in and cast their votes as well.

      No, instead it is all above board, you know that they are his family members when they vote, you know that they have a bias, there is no deception involved.

      Customers visiting the app store have no idea these are the devs, they read the glowing reviews and figure this must be a fantastic app, then they spend money on it. It's fraud. Nowhere do Michael and Sean say they are the devs, they purposely word their comments so they come off like regular customers.

      • Bull. Big companies and politicians pay people to review them too…it's called advertising. They spend billions to shovel lies down your throats about their products, AND pay people to be in commercials supporting their product. you wanna pick on someone for shady advertising? There are plent of better targets out there than these guys.

  3. If you are an app developer you can buy your own app. At that point you are a customer. Customers can leave reviews and only once. Sinecure may not have disclosed they are the developers of the app but at what point does a developer become a customer?

  4. Did he seriously just use the 'everyone else does it' excuse? No, everyone else does not do it, and your attempt to rationalize only shows that you do see that this is morally suspect.

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