Looking at the comments on any app on China’s iOS App Store, it’s not hard to spot lengthy reviews that don’t actually have anything to do with the app. Now the practice has attracted attention from China’s state media.

In a report from China National Radio, which was picked up by many other Chinese news outlets, the state-owned broadcaster said the iOS App Store has hidden “download scams.” The report argues that the App Store has “serious problems” with fake reviews and apps designed to scam people and claims Apple doesn’t seem to know what to do about it.

The report cites two examples of iOS users buying apps that showed up at the top of search results and had many five-star reviews. However, they were found to be virtually unusable.

“The way they mislead users, isn’t Apple going to do something about it?” the article asks, adding that regulators need to pay attention.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment but haven’t heard back.

Five-star reviews with comments unrelated to the app are common on China’s iOS App Store. (Picture: Apple, China iOS App Store)

Many users don’t appear to find it surprising, at least the ones commenting on Weibo. It’s common in China to have inflated reviews, some users argued. Others said the problem is not limited to Apple.

“It’s ridiculous to pick on the iOS system, like [the problem] doesn’t exist on Android,” one person wrote in a Weibo comment with more than 2,000 likes.

Boosting a vendor’s ratings by creating fake orders and fake reviews, referred to as “brushing” in Chinese, is a long-existing problem in China. State media has called it an “industry tumor.”

The practice is illegal under China’s ecommerce law, so Chinese ecommerce companies have cracked down on it. But on app stores, fake five-star reviews and paying to boost rankings remain common ways for Chinese software developers to get quick exposure.

Vendors that offer ASO (App Store Optimization) services are common on Taobao. One store told me that they charge one yuan (US$0.15) for one comment on the iOS App Store that the shop claims is posted under a real Apple ID and a real IP address. It also promises the service is risk-free.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, the owner of Taobao).

But the most successful days of paid reviews could be behind us, even for app developers.

It’s already getting harder to use fake reviews on iOS, according to Wang Jialun, CEO of Chinese gaming media site Youxi Chaguan. Apple has tightened oversight and is actively banning accounts that pay for fake reviews and try to manipulate rankings.