An online friend messages out about a game company up to its old tricks with a new game a week ago. He states that they are click farming and even though the owner is well established, they are using a PO box for their corporate office. As always, I am one for proof, not rumor. This led me to look into things to separate fact from fiction. There is usually some truth in what he posts, so it is usually worth my time to check out his statements.
I discovered that the company, while taking claim for the game, is slow to do so. It is not apparent unless you look into it at this point. They are using a virtual office1 as their newly created game’s LLC headquarters2. A virtual office is shared by multiple businesses to allow them the appearance of having a real upscale address. In this case lessees have options that include some actual office time, or not.
The fake reviews where creatively crafted. My guess is with fake review spotting software, they thought their technique might go unseen. Fortunately, the human brain is really good at seeing patterns.
Even more disturbing, is an actual employee posting a fake review, the same day the fakes where proliferating. This is not evidence that he did the reviews, but it is two things. First thing it is unacceptable for a company agent to review their own product. Second it is a strange coincidence that he would break the law and commit fraud, the same day so many other fraudulent reviews where submitted.
I will get to the evidence in a bit, but want to take this time to talk about the nature of this crime. As a friend in advertising pointed out, fake reviews are frowned upon, but he had not seen any legal action. There has been legal action, but it is infrequent, and usually only occurs when the reviews hurt a ‘business.’ This is the case when a review negatively effects the reputation of a business. Almost never is legal action taken when the fraudulent reviews are all positive about a company.
Notice the use of the word fraudulent. Our brains put a different weight on the term fraudulent, than it does fake. We need to expand our statements to use the word fraud when describing these occurrences. This especially true as we get sick of hearing the term fake news, and start to tune it out. Fake is not a crime, fraud is.
Until governments get onboard and start treating this as a crime, and take time to pursue charges, fraudulent reviews will continue to become a new norm. When talking about google and apple, they have little motivation to abate these on their platforms. They make a percentage off of purchases through their distribution mechanisms. If its a download fee, or in app purchase, they get paid. Industry forecasts on their own financial statements puts services, which includes their virtual stores, as a constantly growing profit maker. Why in the world, would they voluntarily, risk diminishing that trend?
So on to the evidence.
I scanned the reviews on play store by rating. The week ending 10/28 was interesting. I scanned for same names and same context in reviews first. What I could notice there was the hallmark very short 5 star reviews. What I noticed next was the up-voting of many of these. Generally a review saying great game, isn’t up-voted by other people, so this was a red flag. I then noticed on many of these, was a google user with a photo. I started to look at these google+ users and noticed a disturbing and telling trend. Their profile pictures where actually created by taking a picture of a picture on a computer screen. I also noticed today reviewing some of my findings, that the fraudulent reviewer was taking more than one picture of the same picture on their computer screen to make different profiles.
Notice that these are photographs of the same person on a computer screen, and both are different photographs. Throughout the reviews pictures, and retaken pictures repeat. If you are having a hard time noticing what is going on with these photographs, download and look at them side by side, or alternating in different tabs. Here are some additional fake photographs posted during the week ending 10/28….
Feel free to click and enlarge any of them to examine the fact that they are actually somebody taking a photo of their computer screen with their mobile device.
Now on to the employee. To get there, I guess we need to reveal the game being fraudulently reviewed. The game is World War Rising. It is listed as owned by Mobile War LLC. While the game to date is not shown on Machine Zone’s website, the game was touted by Machine’s Zone’s CEO as3 Machine Zone’s latest game recently. Machine Zone was originally 4Addmired Inc. All three companies, and more, still operate as a tangled corporate web. One company owns patents, another servers, another game rights, etc.. It allows for a quick and safe going out of business set-up. All the profits from game A, went to pay for servers and patent rights at company B and C, so really we operated at a loss and have no capital left to give creditors. All the while the same people actually own all the corporations, they just shuffle capital and debt around at will.
Now that we connected some corporate dots, sorry to have to do that, let us look at the employee of Addmired posting a positive review, right in the middle of this mess himself.
Say hello to Nathan Spencer, listing himself as a Software Engineer at Addmired Inc. Now keep in mind, without the logs google maintains with IP addresses, I can not link, or accuse Nathan of being a click farm monkey for his employer. I am just pointing out his fraudulent review, and its oddly timed appearance with the click monkey reviews.
Notice the nice Philz Coffee cup in his hand. A little google and google street view search puts this picture at Philz Coffee right down the street from, guess where, one of Machine Zone’s listed addresses in Palo Alto, California. The profile pic also dates back to being uploaded to his profile in 2014, so this was not a recently created profile. Unless this profile is part of some long running clandestine con against Machine Zone, he is really an employee as listed.
I would like to summarize by asking any agency, in any country, responsible for policing consumer protection or advertising to look at this further. I have no doubt Google has the IP addresses of these accounts, and it would be really sweet if a company in the business of retaining and collating data like Google, had the GPS tags from the photoed photos.