Refugee-saving app by Singapore company pulled from Apple App Store over accusations

SINGAPORE - A refugee-saving mobile app developed by a Singapore company has been pulled from the Apple App Store, following accusations on social media that it does not work.

I SEA, developed by Grey for Good, the philanthropic arm of digital advertising agency Grey Group Singapore, claims to have the ability to scan the Mediterranean Sea for migrant vessels.

The app purportedly employs real-time satellite data that allows users to spot, tag and report a vessel in distress.

The information is then relayed to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) - Grey Group's client for the app - so that the authorities can send help.

Aided by an impressive promotional video and its humanitarian concept, I SEA won an award in the "Promo & Activation" category at the Cannes Lions 2016, an international advertising festival held in France, on Monday (June 20).

Its launch last week was also highlighted by news agency Reuters, as well as news websites such as Mashable and Wired.

But the app's win has come under scrutiny after investigations by various technology experts and websites alleged that the app was not quite what it promised to be.

US media news website Gawker reported that the app "pretends" to distribute satellite images of different parts of the Mediterranean Sea to the app's users, but instead sends everyone the same image.

A check on the Apple App Store on Tuesday (June 21) afternoon revealed that I SEA was no longer available for download.

When contacted, Grey Group's director of marketing and business development Spencer Cheng declined to comment on the accusations that the app was a fake.

Asked to confirm if Apple had indeed removed the app from its store, Mr Cheng also declined comment, referring queries to the company's corporate communications department.

The department has not responded to queries by Tuesday, 9.30pm.

In an earlier statement posted on its website on Sunday (June 19), Grey Group said the app is "currently in a testing mode".

"During this testing period, the satellite images available are not in real-time. Grey for Good are still working to optimise the technology, but we are proud of what we have achieved so far and are grateful to all those who have shown interest in helping to improve the app further."

A MOAS spokesman, speaking to digital news website The Daily Dot, said: "Technology questions are not our area of expertise."

According to its website profile, Grey Group has a client list that includes companies such as Procter & Gamble, GlaxoSmithKline, Diageo, Pfizer and Canon.

In Asia, the firm says it covers 28 cities in 16 countries.

This article was first published on June 21, 2016.
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