Tell me if this rings a bell — you need a particular function, so you go searching for an app that fits the bill. Before you go downloading it, though, you check the ratings to make sure that users are reporting a decent experience with it. If the majority of people are pleased, you go ahead and download/pay for the app.

So what happens then when user reviews, which are meant to benefit/inform would-be customers, are manipulated?

We’ve seen it before in places like Yelp or even via Facebook likes — where a crafty individual or business games the comments section or user reviews using family/friends, widescale promotions or other means. But there’s something about “gamed” app reviews that feels especially upsetting. Maybe it’s because a tasteless dinner from a mediocre restaurant can ruin my evening, but a bad app can ruin a whole lot more.

So it was with piqued interest that I perused a blog post about mobile apps and “dark patterns” (or interfaces that manipulate users). Case in point: In 2008, Apple initiated a “rate-on-delete” feature. Long-time iOS users should be familiar with this accidental “dark pattern” dialog box:

There was some logic to it. If you’re deleting an app, it means you at least had some interaction with it, i.e., you’re not a bot or paid to leave buckets of reviews for apps you never used. Problem was, if you’re deleting it, you’re probably not happy with it. And so it encouraged big waves of negative reviews all over the store. Understandably, the developers were not too thrilled with this, and it was eventually ditched, but it provided a learning lesson: If ratings can be manipulated negatively, then logically, the system can be gamed to boost positive ratings as well.

The article cites one very popular camera app, which gives users two options: “Send Feedback” and “Send Love.” If you’re unhappy with the app, you wouldn’t send any love to the devs, so you’d probably send some feedback. This option starts up an email to the developer. The “Send Love” button? Boom — you’re taken to the App Store to leave a comment. Another app displays a review interface with a green thumb’s up (which takes you to the App Store) or a red thumb’s down (which doesn’t appear to do anything).

Dark patterns are clearly a gray area (no pun intended), and for some reason, Apple hasn’t stopped this sketchy behavior yet, so I guess it’s up to the users to keep the reviews honest. I know I’ll be paying more attention to these dark patterns and going out of my way to leave honest impressions in the ratings, even if it means taking a few extra seconds to do it manually. Will you?

Have you run into this kind of behavior from your iOS or other apps? Did it succeed in swaying you from leaving a negative review? Weigh in.

[via 90 Percent of Everything]