The iPhone community has reacted strongly to the news that some app review sites have pay-to-play policies.
Wired.com last week reported on payola practices prevalent among several websites dedicated to reviewing iPhone apps. At least two authors of one site, TheiPhoneAppReview.com, recently required money from iPhone developers in exchange for reviews of their apps.
Those demands were at odds with TheiPhoneAppReview.com’s stated policy, which says that it only requires a fee for “expedited” reviews — those which are reviewed sooner than others.
Several developers have responded by promising to avoid sites with such policies. In reaction to our article, Jeff Campbell, owner of Tapestry Apps, pledged to blacklist pay-to-play websites and urged other developers to do so as well. Alexandra Peters, community manager of Firemint, which develops the popular iPhone game Flight Control, also said she would avoid sending news releases to pay-to-play sites.
The FTC in October 2009 issued guidelines requiring bloggers to provide disclosure on reviews whenever goods, such as money or gifts, are exchanged. TheiPhoneAppReview.com and other sites covered by Wired do disclose their “expedited review” fees in FAQs.
Some app review websites have responded to Wired.com’s coverage as well. Nine new websites have signed up to become part of the Organization for App Testing Standards (OATS), a set of ethical guidelines that rejects payment for reviews, according to Jeff Scott, owner of the app review site 148Apps and co-creator of OATS.
Apple news publication Macworld, which owns an app review website called AppGuide, is the latest OATS member. Jason Snell, editorial director of Macworld and a former journalism teacher at UC Berkeley, said the publication already follows “old-school journalistic practices,” so it was easy to join OATS.
“In the end, it’s all about being as transparent as possible so readers can make up their own minds about who to trust, and about not posing as something you’re not,” Snell said. “Readers need to know that true editorial reviews are fair, and aren’t the product of any quid pro quo involving money or any other favors…. People need to know where the opinions they’re reading are coming from.”
Vallez added that websites that charge for advertising of iPhone apps, or benefit from affiliate links to iPhone apps, have financial ties as well.
In response to that argument, Macworld’s Snell said traditional media businesses build walls between editorial and advertising departments so advertising clients cannot influence coverage. He also said the actual dollar amounts from affiliate links are tiny, and that information is also walled off from editorial operations.
“I think it’s a ridiculous, slippery-slope argument — but hey, the payola sites have to find some way to try and hide their shame,” Snell said. “Maybe they should argue that any site that takes advertising is fundamentally compromised. But let’s visit reality: We live in a society with commercial media businesses. The way we’ve traditionally solved this conflict is by building walls between editorial and business, so that sales people can sell ads endlessly but the editors don’t even know who the advertisers are, and don’t care.”
In the journalism industry, the ethical debate surrounding pay-to-play operations has been longstanding, said Kenneth Pybus, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Abilene Christian University. However, he said undisclosed paid reviews are indisputably unethical because they manipulate the public.
“I don’t think it’s defensible to fail to disclose that,” Pybus said. “That’s an easy call to say it’s ethically wrong because that is a disservice to readers. It ought to be information that applies to readers and not information that advances yourself financially.”
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Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
Source: Gadget Lab