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Apple Pulled An App For Helping Migrants At Sea After People Called It A Scam

I Sea claimed to crowdsource migrant safety in the Mediterranean Sea, but experts said it was an unfinished product.

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An app that claimed "to make an impossible task possible" by letting users scan sections of the Mediterranean Sea for migrant ships has been removed from Apple's store after people accused it of being a scam.

The I Sea app was released last week and garnered positive coverage from Reuters, Wired, and other media outlets. The app was developed by Grey For Good, the philanthropic arm of the Singapore-based advertising agency Grey Group. The developers claimed that live satellite imagery of the Mediterranean was divided into small "plots," then sent to individual app users who could scan the waters for any ships that might be in trouble.
I See

The I Sea app was released last week and garnered positive coverage from Reuters, Wired, and other media outlets.

The app was developed by Grey For Good, the philanthropic arm of the Singapore-based advertising agency Grey Group.

The developers claimed that live satellite imagery of the Mediterranean was divided into small "plots," then sent to individual app users who could scan the waters for any ships that might be in trouble.

In a slick video, the makers of the app boasted that "as world leaders continue to debate the biggest human tragedy of the century, the world has decided to take the matter into their own hands."

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

The agency said it was launching the app in conjunction with the search-and-rescue group Migrant Offshore Aid Station — a claim the charity denies.

A spokesperson for MOAS told BuzzFeed News they had nothing to do with the development of the app.

"We were approached by Grey for Good with their idea in November of 2015 and our team later explained the realities of rescue at sea, all of which requires real time, accurate and second by second information," Robert Young Pelton said.

"[W]e don’t use consumer iPhone apps to save lives."

People who took a closer look at the app over the weekend called bullshit on its claims of helping save lives. The popular Twitter account SwiftOnSecurity called I Sea "a marketing stunt for the developer to get press articles."

Tried it, the app is completely non-functional. It's a marketing stunt for the developer to get press articles.

Rather than taking live imagery and cutting it into small plots for different users, the app appeared to give all users the same still photo.

@SwiftOnSecurity it is at least talking to an API but seems to link to a static image

This image is hosted on the I Sea website. When BuzzFeed News downloaded the app, we were given what appeared to be the same image, complete with the striped section on the right.

www.iseaapp.com/images/newimg.png
I Sea

People said even the weather report included in the app was fake. It claimed to show conditions in the Mediterranean Sea, but was apparently taken from a weather station in Libya.

@SwiftOnSecurity The Map/images is from Google Maps (which means out of date. The weather is for Misrata, Libya https://t.co/rzP58dpvDO

Despite the critiques, the app was shortlisted for a Cannes Lions advertising award.

By Monday afternoon, it was no longer available on the App Store.

MOAS applauded Grey For Good's intentions but distanced itself from the advertising giant. "All we can say on the developers' behalf it is that the app probably sounded interesting in concept form but failed miserably in execution," Pelton said.

The charity asked for its branding to be removed from the app on Monday "since the app is non-functional and misleading."

BuzzFeed News reached out to Grey For Good but received no response to questions about the app's functionality.

A spokesperson for Grey Group told the New York Times that I Sea is still in its testing phase, despite not being labelled as a beta product online or within the app, and blamed "satellite issues" for the lack of real-time images.

“For some reason, a developer unknown to us has pushed the story that it is fake or a hoax," Owen Dougherty said. "Grey Group is one of the most creatively awarded global agencies around, and we adhere to the highest ethical standards.”

Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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