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S'pore-based firm refutes claims refugee-aid app is fake

FINDING REFUGEES: A screengrab from the I SEA app's promo video, which claims to be able to locate migrant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea.


    Jun 23, 2016

    S'pore-based firm refutes claims refugee-aid app is fake

    A SINGAPORE-BASED company which created a mobile app that claims to be able to aid refugees adrift at sea has denied widespread allegations that it is a fake.

    I SEA, developed by Grey for Good, the philanthropic arm of digital advertising agency Grey Group Singapore, has been pulled from Apple's App Store for breaching guideline 1.1.6, which bans "false information and features".

    The app says it has the ability to scan the Mediterranean Sea for migrant ships, and purportedly employs real-time satellite data that allows users to spot, tag and report a vessel in distress.

    This information is then relayed to the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station - Grey Group's client for the app - so that the authorities can send help.

    But outside developers who tested the app have flagged it as a dud, revealing that I SEA "pretends" to distribute satellite footage of different parts of the sea to the app's users, but instead uses the same image.

    Some noted that the weather information provided is also taken from West Libya.

    The controversy has made it to the websites of newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian.

    In an e-mail statement to The Straits Times yesterday, Grey Group's chief communications officer, Owen Dougherty, insisted the app was real.

    He added: "We said it was in a testing stage and they have some satellite issues to work out. For some reason, a developer unknown to us has pushed the story that it is fake or a hoax.

    "Grey Group is one of the most creatively awarded global agencies around and we adhere to the highest ethical standards."

    International news websites such as Reuters, Mashable and Wire, which covered the app's launch last week, conveyed the impression it was functional. No mention was made of it being in testing.

    Aided by a slick promotional video and its strong humanitarian concept, I SEA won a Bronze award at the Cannes Lions 2016, an international advertising festival held in France, on Monday.

    Cannes Lions chairman Terry Savage, who spoke to The Economic Times, said the organisers will wait till after the festival is over to investigate the allegations and "take whatever appropriate measures we need to".

    A check on the Apple App Store yesterday afternoon confirmed that I SEA was no longer available for download. It was also not listed as a test app.

    Said its description on the App Store: "The app divides the satellite image of the sea into millions of small plots and assigns each user a unique plot of the sea to monitor."

    When contacted by The Straits Times, an Apple spokesman declined to comment.