Apple has pulled Grey Singapore's Cannes-winning app, I Sea, from its App Store that claimed to help rescue refugees in the Mediterranean Sea after experts accused it of being a scam. Created by ad agency Grey Digital, the app claimed it allowed users to scan sections of the Mediterranean Sea via satellite images to help find, tag and report any migrant ships in distress. The information would then be processed by the authorities concerned before being passed on to a search-and-rescue group.
The app, which listed NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) as a partner, was praised by media outlets around the globe for its humanitarian efforts. It also won a bronze medal at the Cannes Lions advertising festival on Monday.
However, several experts who took a closer look at I Sea's features found multiple holes in the app's claims, particularly its 'live' satellite imagery feature.
After famous Twitter user SecuriTray dubbed the app "feel good bullshit", other experts and developers also began to tear apart the app's claims and uncover how the programme actually worked.
According to critics, the app's real-time satellite images are not actually live, but are actually older, static pictures from Google Maps.
"It's a terrible fake," iOS developer Alex Kent wrote on Twitter. "My 'live' satellite image is [the] same as in all the screenshots."
Some users also pointed out that the app asks users to provide detailed, personal information to provide a report including one's passport number.
MOAS has denied that the organisation was involved in the app's development as well.
"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," MOAS spokesperson Robert Young Pelton told BuzzFeed. "[W]e don't use consumer iPhone apps to save lives."
"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.
In a statement released on 19 June, Grey Digital says I Sea is still in "testing mode" and admits that the app does not show live satellite images. They also added that they are "proud of what we have achieved so far".
"At this time it is loading and mapping satellite images to its GPS coordinates and users are able to report an anomaly in their plot of sea," the statement reads. "The report function is sending out an alert whenever a user flags something in the plot of sea they are watching. 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."
The I Sea app was pulled from the iOS App Store on Monday (20 June).