Refugee App Exposed as Fake After Winning at Cannes Lions

i sea fake appAn app which claimed to offer aid to refugees and migrants lost in the Mediterranean has been pulled from Apples App Store after being revealed to be fake, less that 24 hours after winning an award at the prestigious Cannes Lions event.

The I Sea app supposedly used real-time satellite footage to enable users to report refugees who were lost at sea. Users would examine images to identify boats in trouble and provide their location to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a facility in Malta that would provide help.

The app was pulled from the Apple App Store when it was revealed that it did not actually display real-time satellite footage, which requires considerable effort and expense, and instead showed a static image that never changed. Even the weather report the app showed was inaccurate, giving the details for Western Libya rather than the southern Mediterranean.

The app was developed by Grey Group, a Singapore-based ad agency that is part of global ad giant WPP, and received considerable acclaim when it was released as a high-tech solution that enabled average citizens to have an impact on the refugee crisis affecting the Middle East and Europe.

Grey Group has not commented on the apps ejection from the App Store, and its website still promotes the app. A post from two days ago, which was World Refugee Day, claims the app “aims to bring humanitarian and technological efforts together in order to have a concrete impact on the continued refugee crisis at sea” and that “Grey for Good are still working to optimise the technology, but we are proud of what we have achieved so far”.

While its common for advertising and creative agencies to release proof-of-concept apps that are still in the testing or experimental phase, I See was presented as a finished and functional app, and its removal from the App Store was triggered by the app breaching guideline 1.1.6, which bans “false information and features”.

The apps false claims were brought to light by a distributed effort by a number of developers worldwide, who noted a number of red flags in how the app operated, such as always showing the same coordinates to users, a login page that was hard-coded to reply with “Invalid username/password” and the fact it was developed by an ad agency, rather than a group with experience in dealing with complex satellite imagery. Twitter user SecuriTay, who coordinated efforts to check the apps claims, called the app a “giant scam”.

The work to uncover the apps deceptive claims was happening almost simultaneously to the app being awarded a Bronze Lion in Cannes, winning in the Use of Mobile category in the Promo & Activation section of the advertising awards.

Whether this revelation will result in the agency losing its award, or prompt an overhaul of how apps and services are judged by the Cannes Lions, remains to be seen.

Don’t forget to enter the Effective Mobile Marketing Awards. The Early Bird deadline for submissions is 22 July. More details here.