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Critique: “Salubrious Nation: a game-y look at U.S. health”

10 minute read

In keeping with our recent weekly reading about the growing 'gamification' of data, I wanted to focus my critique this week on a map-styled data-driven game made my a group of researchers at Rutgers University called Salubrious Nation. The game attempts to engage users more deeply with public health data by luring them in with an addictive system of points and rewards.

In terms of functionality, the game play operates fairly simply. A map presents demographic data about every county in the 48 states of the continental U.S. The game then chooses one county at random and asks the player to guess a public health statistic about it, like binge drinking, teenage pregnancies, diabetes, obesity rates, etc. The game features two types of interaction: the user can mouse over any county to see demographic data about it (population, poverty rate, life expectancy, etc.), and a slider at the top to enter the player’s guess for the county up for play. As you moved the slider up and down, you can get hints about how close you are by looking at whether the surrounding counties are above or below the value you've chosen. Based upon how close the player's guess is to the actual statistic, the player earns a corresponding amount of points. After eight rounds of the play, the game ends, and the player is told how his or her performance matches up to others who've played the game before. Apparently, I scored higher than 62 percent of other players. Woohoo! Just enough of a dopamine rush to get me to play again.

What's cool about this game is that it makes data something to get immersed in for the fun of it, and you learn along the way. Over time, you begin to notice patterns emerging as you learn the tricks and strategies of the game. You figure out that the Western half of the country tends to have a higher rate of binge drinking. You learn that diabetes and obesity is the worse in the South. As one of the game's creator, Nick Diakopoulous, explains, the gamification of health data provides a good opporunity for users to focus on data they might otherwise ignore: "Considering the selective attention issue, where people are more likely to pay attention to things that they already agree with, this result suggests an opportunity to get players to look at aspects of the data that they might not otherwise be inclined to look at."

I can only find a few possible qualms with the game. One is that it operates off of flash, meaning that it can't be run on most smartphones or tablets. Another is that the yellow-to-orange color scheme seems to be a bit disorienting on the eyes. Perhaps the developers would've been wiser to choose softer colors – possibly even a red-to-green graduated scale with a neutral middle value. Another thing that irked me, although I see little simple solution, is that county-level guessing seems almost so geographically-specific that it's hard for most people (including myself) to have much knowledge of which specific counties in Oklahoma or Kansas have the highest obesity rates.

Why news organizations should stop differeniating blogs from articles

13 minute read

Andy Boyle (@andymboyle) of The Boston Globe made an┬áimpassioned┬áplea to news organizations earlier this week that they stop differentiating between blogs and articles because they’re both equally forms of content. Someone’s been needing to put this into writing for a while now, and I’m glad Andy said it so eloquently.

INTERACTIVE: Why is the South the most obese part of the country? Five theories

17 minute read

This map displays the obesity rate of each U.S. state in 2010. The darker shade red represents a higher percentage of obese residents, while the green represents states with lower obesity rates. Click on each state to see the exact totals of each state's obesity rate.* 

Southerners need to lay off of the Crisco, cut back on the processed foods and start spending more time on the treadmill to fight the growing epidemic of obesity, experts say.

According to 2010 data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the South is the most obese region in the nation, with about one in three of its residents classifying as chronically obese. That's far greater than the entire nation, where the figure is closer to one in four.

Of the 10 states with the highest rates of adult obesity, eight of them are in the South: Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee. And that's only assuming you don't count West Virginia as being "southern."

Across the nation, the epidemic has grown worse in recent years. Twelve states now have obesity rates higher than 30 percent, compared to four years ago when only one state, Mississippi, ranked above the 30 percent threshold. The only state in the Deep South without an obesity rate of more than 30 percent today is Georgia, but that appears to be primarily because the more physically fit population of metro Atlanta offsets the rest of the state's obesity.

But what's making the South –– the region CDC Dr. William Dietz has dubbed "the heart disease and stroke belt" –– more chubby than the rest of the nation? Here are five possible explanations:

1. High poverty -– The South may be obese, but it's also poor. With a poverty rate of 14 percent, the South is easily the most impoverished region in the country. And according to data from the USDA, states with a higher poverty rate also tend to have a higher number of obese citizens. Experts say that's because people with a low income are more likely to purchase high-calorie inexpensive processed foods, which contribute to weight gain. "If you overlay a map of obesity onto a map of poverty, the two very clearly correspond," said David A. Davis, a professor of Southern Studies at Mercer University who has conducted extensive research on southern foodways. "The southern diet is a diet of poverty, and it's one based on cheap, fatty processed foods."

2. The "grocery gap" – Because the South is largely rural, many residents don't have quality access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and are forced to drive long distances to find anything healthier than potato chips and sodas at roadside gas stations. All five states with above average of what the USDA calls "food insecurity" levels are located in the South: Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina. What's more, it's significantly more expensive to purchase low-fat items in the South than in the rest of the nation. For example, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia all topped the list of states where it costs the most to buy low-fat milk, USDA data says.

3. The grease-fed "southern" culinary tradition -– One of the easiest explanations for the South's staggering obesity rates is the region's tradition of fried chicken, sweet tea and gravy on top of everything – or what's commonly referred to by non-southerners as the "Paula Deen" effect. "To me, it's simply a cultural habit regarding what we eat, not an issue of poverty," says Andy Breck, director of the Center for a Better South, a nonprofit group based out of the University of South Carolina that seeks to raise awareness about ongoing issues facing the region. "People are fat in Mississippi. People are fat in South Carolina. People are fat in Alabama. There's got to be something going on. And it's not just poor people. It's middle and upper-class folks who grotesquely overeat, because that's all they've ever known to do."

4. Lack of physical activity–– Southerners also tend to be less physically active than the rest of the country, burning off fewer calories and retaining more body fat, USDA data says. All five U.S. states where less than 60 percent of adults met the USDA's recommended physical activity guidelines in 2008 were located below the Mason Dixon Line: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Some researchers have speculated that the South's lack of physical activity may not be so much sheer laziness as it is a lack of access to places to exercise. Few rural areas have fancy private gyms for southerners to burn off their extra calories, and most of the year it's just too plain hot in the South to exercise outdoors.

5. Lack of quality education – Perhaps at the heart of the southern obesity epidemic, however, is the region's crippling lack of quality public education. "I don't buy the fact that the South is fat because of traditional southern foodways," said Davis, who teaches classes on southern poverty and culture and has written numerous articles on the subject. "To me, it's more of a poverty and an educational problem. If we don't educate people, especially in terms of health education, we're going to keep having obese citizens."

*Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 3, 2012

Critique: Curbwise.com

8 minute read

Lately I've been trying to get my feet wet with Django, an open-source Python web framework that's well-suited to producing complex news apps under  tight deadlines. I haven't had enough free time yet to get into the nitty gritty of it, but I'm getting there slowly. What first piqued my interest in Django was a brilliant news app I ran across a couple of months ago called Curbwise, which was built with Django by the news developer team at the Omaha World Herald/Omaha.com.

Curbwise advertises itself as "your one-stop shop for the latest on real-estate in Douglas County." But Curbwise is much more than your standard, run-of-the-mill real-estate section of most local news websites. It allows the user to fine-tune what neighborhoods he or she wants to view, and compare demographic data and housing prices side-by-side. Using a complex, clickable system of Google maps with a clean design and corresponding tables, you can drill-down to see all sorts of individual data charted out in an appealing red color-scheme, along with a listing of houses that are currently on the market in the neighborhood. You can even click on individual properties to see the historical and current valuations not only of the property in question,but of all the properties nearby. The warm yellow used to display the property tracts on the map invites the user to mouse over all the houses to see highly stylized infoWindows with more information. It's really hard to find anything about the navigation, interface and design to complain about. The only thing that might possibly make the app better is adding interactivity to the static charts on the neighborhood and property pages.

Obviously, all of this data is of immense value to users on an evergreen basis, not just a transitory news cycle. What's also impressive is that it's useful for both interested home buyers looking to browse the marketplace and for current home-owners who want to see the valuations of their home compared to nearby homes. For a small fee, the app even lets you download a custom report with all of that information contained within it upon entering your address. And, just in case a homeowner suspect his or her home may be overvalued, the interface includes a handy guide to protesting your valuation with local government agencies.

On a whole, Curbwise is the epitome of a solid, innovative app built by a news organization that works to protect consumers and inform the public. Even better, the money made off custom report sales provides the paper with an additional revenue stream that likely helps offset the loss in print advertising in recent years.

On the importance of localism

less than 1 minute read

A decade before the rise of the Internet set in motion the disruption of legacy news business models, Kaniss foresaw the growing need for local and regional news to unite increasingly fragmented, suburbanized communities.

Critique, “French wine map shows the best vintage, from 1978 to 2011”

4 minute read

It's nearing the end of the week, so what better way to relax than with a good bottle of wine and some leisure reading? Problem is, I'm not very skilled at buying wine that tastes any good. I always end up paying more for the bitter, expensive stuff. Fortunately,  there's a pretty cool news app for that. The Telegraph UK's recent interactive app on French wine ratings allows users to browse through the years to see which regions of the country produced the best-tasting wines in each year. With a handy HTML5 slider on the bottom, the user can locate the year of the bottle while in the store, then match that up with the region the bottle was harvested in. Then by mousing over the corresponding region labels, users can get an idea of that year and region's quality as rated by conniseaurs.

The only thing that concerns me is this app's use of mapping when mapping was not required. Granted, the geographical component to this topic is very important and likely justifies a map. But at the same time, the map feels bare with only the wine regions colored and the rest of France empty. What stands out more than anything, however, is the app's use of color. The deep red and pink colors combined with the light green shading not only represents white and red wine visually, but it also gives the app an aesthetically appealing and bright color scheme against the canvas-colored backdrop.

Critique, “Why is Her Paycheck Smaller?”

4 minute read

For my final critique, I decided to look at a more straightforward and well-known visualization on gender wage gaps created by The New York Times back in 2010. The "Why is Her Paycheck Smaller" visualization shows how simple, mostly static scatter plots can sometimes be the most efficient and informative way to tell a story.

Functionality-wise, the visualization is not terribly impressive. Not only does it run on clunky, often-inoperable Flash, but it has little in terms of interactivity. All you basically do is click on each of the occupations to see where the dots for that occupation fall, and then mouse over the dots to see more specific information. The clean, crisp design, on the other hand, makes the colored dots stand out, basking in the surrounding minimalism. The notations help explain possible outliers without cluttering the graph, and the charts on the bottom right put the data into a larger context neatly and concisely.

For its time, this visualization probably was cutting-edge. But despite its less sophisticated technologies looking back now, it communicates just as powerfully as any of the best visualizations do in 2012. The "Why is her Paycheck Smaller" visualization shows that, no matter what technology, good charting, design and editing makes for a strong story. It's easy to get caught up in the technologies, but sometimes less is more.

Should data viz be a specialty or a commodity skill in the newsroom?

8 minute read

An interesting question came up at last Wednesday's Doing Data Journalism (#doingdataj) panel hosted by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism here at Columbia's J-School: Should there be data specialists in the newsroom, or can everyone be a data journalist? For New York Times interactive editor Aron Pilholfer, who participated in the panel, the question is not so much should everyone do data as will everyone do data. And for Pilholfer, the answer to that question clearly seems to be no:

I kind of naively thought that at one time you could train everybody to be at least a base level of competency with something like Excel, but I'm not of that belief anymore. I think you do need specialists.

I've always hated the idea of having technology or innovation 'specialists' in a work environment that should ideally be collaborative. So, at first I tended to disagree with Pilholfer's argument. But what won me over was the reasoning behind his claim. For Pilholfer, it's not that the technology, human talent or open source tools aren't there for everyone to scrape, analyze and process data –– in fact, it's now easier than ever to organize messy data with simple and often free desktop applications like Excel and Google Refine. The problem is that there's a cultural lack of interest within newsrooms, often from an editorial level, to produce data-driven stories. As Pilholfer says in what appears to be an indictment of upper-level editors for disregarding the value of data,

The problem is that we continue to reward crap journalism that's based on anecdotal evidence alone . . . But truly if it's not a priority at the top to reward good data-driven journalism, it's going to be impossible to get people into data because they just don't think it's worth it.

I totally agree, but with one lurking suspicion. As with the top-level editors, many traditional users –– or 'readers,' as one might call them –– still at least think they like to read pretty, anecdotal narratives, and tend not to care as much whether the hard data backs them up. In other words, it’s an audience problem just as much as it is a managerial or institutional one. Some legacy news consumers just still aren't data literate. Because they're not accustomed to even having such data freely available to them, they don't even value having it. As the old saying goes, "You can't miss what you never had." Yet as traffic and engagement statistics continually confirm, as soon users have open data readily available to them through news apps and data visualizations, they spend more time accessing the data than they do reading the print narrative.

Aron Pilholfer at #doingdataj

less than 1 minute read

Totally agree, but harbor the lurking suspicion that many traditional readers still like to read pretty narratives and don't care as much if the facts back them up. In other words, it's an audience problem just as much as it is an editorial one.

Apple App Store’s “Walled Garden” Overrun With Weeds

64 minute read

By CARL V. LEWIS

In 1894, advertisers claimed snake oil could cure “all aches and pains." But by the time you realized it didn’t, it was too late. Your money was gone.

 

It's a predicament similar to the one facing thousands of customers at Apple's iTunes App Store, where unscrupulous app developers often lure unsuspecting consumers into buying misleading, knockoff and even downright scam apps for their iPhones and iPads. To make matters worse, Apple offers no guaranteed refund policy for app-store purchases, often leaving the consumer stuck with a flawed or bogus product and with only the bill to pay for it.

For just $12.99, you can get an app that magically heals warts!

Despite the fact that Apple bans apps that contain foul language, the company has approved dozens of dubious and often blatant scam apps in the four years since it opened. Many of these apps have made unrealistic, if not impossible, claims to health, beauty and emotional wellbeing. Take the $1.99 'AcneApp,'  for example, which – before the Federal Trade Commission ordered that Apple remove it from the marketplace in 2010 – sold 11,600 downloads with the promise to remove zits by projecting blue and red light onto the face. Or there's the 'Wart Healer' app, which, at a price tag of $12.99, claimed  "to provide wart removal via mental healing," according to its description in the iTunes store. It was removed in early 2011 after the blog Gizmodo posted about it.

Other apps Apple has approved for sale and subsequently pulled from market after pubshback include the 99-cent app called Baby Shaker, which simulated the violent shaking of an infant, as well as the app 'Less Cigarette!,' which claimed to help smokers ditch their tobacco habit by changing the taste of cigarettes using different colored lights.

To be fair, Apple has removed most of these bogus applications in a swift manner after coming under fire from the blogosphere. But in some cases, the worst scamming took place before the apps were removed, costing not only the consumer, but tarnishing the integrity of the entire App Store.

On Feb. 20, 2012, the fake Pokemon Yellow app was the second-highest grossing paid app in the entire App Store.

Take the case of the Pokemon Yellow app released in the App Store in mid-February. Upon its launch, the app ignited widespread fervor among fans of the popular Nintendo-owned Pokemon franchise. Within three days, the app skyrocketed to the top of the charts, selling more than 2,000 copies at 99 cents a pop and earning its developers more than $10,000 in profits. At its peak, Pokemon Yellow ranked as the second most popular paid-app in the entire 750,000-strong iTunes app marketplace, just behind the iconic 'Grand Theft Auto' game and four spots ahead of 'Angry Birds.'

But it didn't take long for users to figure out that something wasn't quite right about Pokemon Yellow. Despite the vast array of glowing five-start reviews suggesting otherwise, more than 1,500 users complained that the app  would only load one picture, then crash.

As it turns out, the app was a fake – an unusable knock-off of the real thing which duped thousands of loyal Pokeman fans into buying what they were led to believe was the genuine brand-name game. The app wasn't even made by Pokemon's copyright holder, Nintendo, but instead by a shady development company called House of Anime, which blatantly misrepresented its product and infringed on copyright laws.

Yet it was only after the popular gaming blog ArsTechnica blew the whistle on the fake Pokemon Yelllow app on February 19 –– causing the story to go viral –– that Apple took any action to remove the app from the store.

When Apple first launched the App Store in 2008, CEO Steve Jobs promised consumers the store would uphold a “walled-garden policy” in which Apple would screen all third-party apps before they made their way into the marketplace. No profanity, no pornography and no copyright infringements would be allowed to be distributed through the hallowed App Store gates, and no app would be given the green light without rigorous review and inspection by Apple developers and product testers.

But what began as a walled garden has now become overrun with weeds, with hundreds of flimsy, fraudulent and full-blown scam apps sprouting up in the iTunes store in 2011 and early 2012.

"Recently there's been a dramatic rise in the number of fraudulent apps getting attention – even top sales positions – in the iPhone and iPad store," wrote iMore Editor-in-Chief Rene Ritchie in February. "For consumers, it's just one more hurdle face when trying to find the good apps."

While outcry from the FTC, consumer advocacy groups and an army of indignant bloggers like Ritchie has led Apple to ban many fraudulent applications, scam-like apps continue to exist in various, but less obvious, forms today.

Dozens of apps in the App Store claim to do one thing, yet deliver another. Despite repeated efforts by Apple to purge the store of ripoff apps, dozens still exist today, with app developers continuously figuring out ways to game the system by artificially boosting product ratings.

Here are five of the most egregious apps we found that are currently in the App Store:

1. Microsoft Word 2010 - Mastering in 24h (view)

As you can see here, the reference guide apps from FutureMedia look like the actual applications on an iPhone screen.

Looking to download a copy of Microsoft Word on your device so you can edit on-the-go? If so, don't be fooled into shelling out $11.99 for this app that appears at first glance to be a functional copy of Word 2010, bearing the Office 2010 and Microsoft Word logos in its iconography. We downloaded this app to give it a whirl, only to find out that it's merely a 20-page guidebook of free tips and instructions on how to use Microsoft Word, not an actual installation of the popular word-processing software.

The developers may try to claim that this app falls under appropriate App Store guidelines, as it includes the phrase "Mastering in 24h" at the end of its title in an apparent, albeit feeble, attempt to indicate that it's a reference app only. But on an iPhone 4S screen, that part of the title gets chopped off, and can only be seen after the jump. Seeing the familiar Word logo and the title 'Microsoft Word 2010' would likely be enough for many users to click 'Buy Now' on the item without even bothering to click through to see the product specifications on the next page. And judging by the product reviews, at least 231 customers have fallen for the trick, and then giving the product the lowest-possible rating of one star to warn others (that number only counts the customers who actually took the time to write a review, not the total number). One reviewer, Pdubz23457, framed the app's tactics fairly eloquently: "No one would buy this unless they thought it was Word. This company is taking advantage of how fast paced people are today."

FutureMedia sells similarly deceptive "reference" guides to other popular software.

According to information from the iTunes store, the company that sells the Microsoft Word 2010 app, FutureMedia Studio, offers similar reference apps for programs including Microsoft Excel 2010 ($11.99), Adobe Photoshop CS5 ($14.99) and Microsoft Office 2010 ($22.99). All three of these apps, too, use the same deceptive tactics and product logos to give off the appearance that they are actual copies of the software at hand. One customer, Jewiz B., bought both the Word and Excel apps at the same time, and was incensed to find out they were only guidebooks: "I just wasted $26 because I thought this was Word AND I bought Excel."

Scott Ruben, an app developer who hosts a daily webcast called "App-a-Day," said that Apple's "one-click" purchasing system makes consumers particularly vulnerable to scams such as this, which aren't technically lying but present themselves in a misleading context.

"Because it’s only one click away, it’s so easy for someone to say, you know what, I’m going to try it," Ruben said.

But if apps such as these from FutureMedia are so obviously worthless, then why do all four of them have such a large amount of five star ratings? And how do they end up so high in search rankings? The answer is simple: The company selling the apps sets aside a large amount of money to buy separate copies of their own app, so that they can then leave five-star reviews that bump the app up in the rankings. This allows the apps to go relatively undetected by Apple. According to Apple's guidelines for developers, this tactic is a clear violation of App Store rules: "“If you attempt to cheat the system (for example, by trying to trick the review process, steal data from users, copy another developer’s work, or manipulate the ratings) your apps will be removed from the store and you will be expelled from the developer program.”  However, Apple hasn't bothered to remove any of FutureMedia's apps, despite the barrage of one-star ratings from disgruntled customers that should tip Apple developers off.

After purchasing the bogus Word 2010 app, we placed a refund request with Apple (we'll explain how you can do that, too, later in this post) to see if we could recoup our losses. It's been five business days now, and so far we've yet to hear back from Apple. We also visited FutureMedia's website, which makes no mention of any of the apps in question and provided no contact information except for a form. Using the contact form, we made the following request for a refund using the company's contact form:

 

Dear FutureMedia,

I recently purchased your product "Microsoft Word 2010 - Mastering in 24h," thinking it was a copy of the actual MS Word processing program. It was not made clear in Apple's App Store description that this product was only a reference guide, and the marketing was misleading. As such, I'd like to request a refund. If you could, please get in touch with me as soon as possible.

-Carl V. Lewis

 

That message was sent on Thursday, April 31. We've yet to hear anything back from the company.

2.  LockScreen (see)

At just $1.99, the Lock Screen app promises, well, to lock your screen. There's just one little problem with it, however: it doesn't actually lock anything. In its description, the app promises an array of impressive security features such as "voice recognition," "fingerprint scan" and "Android-like 'connect-the-dots' security" to "keep your data private and secure."  But upon purchasing the app, you find out that it's actually a collection of poorly-designed background wallpapers with designs that only pretend to lock your screen. "They're just ripping you off. It's a picture, not a lock. It does nothing at all to lock your iPhone," posted one reviewer, Greg, from California.

The huge disparity between five-star and one-star ratings reflects the developer's gaming of the system with purchased reviews.

The app has received 41 customer ratings –– 22 of those ratings give the app glowing five-star reviews, while the remaining 19 of them call the scam out with the lowest possible one star-rating.  Another scorned reviewer, Mikeywhatsgood, said: "I can't believe the App Store would even allow this app to be available to buy." But because the app has been artificially boosted by so many scam five-star ratings, it has an average rating of three stars, once again allowing it to go largely undetected by Apple and remain available for purchase by unsuspecting consumers.

The company that sells the app, Fox Mobile, did not appear in Google search results, and had no traces online of its existence. According to the iTunes store, the company sells two other apps –– one called 'Lockitizer' that is an exact duplicate of LockScreen except under a different name, and another called 'Live Themes' that promises to jazz up your phone with custom wallpapers.

An earlier version of the LockScreen app was released in March under the title "LockYourScreen" and for a short period sat among the top 10 paid-apps list. But the app was pulled from the store in late April after receiving more than 1,000 abysmal one-star ratings from angered customers. It didn't take the makers of the app long, however, to sneak the scam app back into the store under a different titlel Just eight days later, on May 3, 'LockScreen' was released in the store, where it remains today.

3. Anger Birds (see)

[caption id="attachment_2646" align="alignright" width="300"] Yet another in a line of Angry Birds copycats[/caption]

Sounds familiar, right? Well, that's because it's one of the multitude of copycat apps of the most popular iPhone game to date, Angry Birds. Most of the past copycat apps (Angry Ninja Birds, Cut the Birds, etc.) have already been banned at the request of Rovio Mobile, the creators of Angry Birds. For the same 99 cents as Angry Birds, this app has an almost identical-looking icon and color-scheme,, but is nowhere nearly as high a quality of a game. We tested it out to see how similar the game play was to its name-brand counterpart. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as fun as Angry Birds, with a low-resolution user-interface and an unclear game mission. In fact, Anger Birds is so bad that even its copycatting efforts haven't helped it gain much steam. So far, it's only received six reviews, with four of them giving one-star ratings. But at least one consumer has fallen for Anger Birds' tricks.  Don, a reviewer who gave the app a one-star rating, said: "I think the developer has deceptively named their app to trick people into purchasing it. Well, it worked on my son. He purchased this when he really wanted Angry Birds. Shame on you."

4. iGrow Male Enhancement (see)

The first two lines of this app's description says perhaps all that need to be said: "ACHIEVE AN INCREASE IN SIZE IN 2 WEEKS!! NO BLUE PILLS…….NO COMMERCIALS." For just $4.99, male consumers can get "REAL RESULTS"  that will "vastly enhance your male performance," and are "as good as taking a Viagra." What's more, the image attached to the app's description claims the app will "Add 1-4 inches to your PENIS" with a 100 percent guaranteed stamp.

To evaluate iGrow's rather bold marketing claims, we downloaded the app to see how it operated. Not surprisingly, all the app contained was a few lines of text that spouted off common-sense tips that anyone could easily find on Google. Nothing within the app itself provided any actual mechanism to increase male stamina.

5. WartRemoval (see)

Another wart removal app has cropped up in the iTunes App Store, although this time with slightly more legitimacy as it doesn't explicitly claim to remove warts, only to give tips "to helping you get rid of that ugly stubborn wart that just won't go away." Once again, though, the actual content of the app is nothing unique that couldn't be found through a simple Google search. And at $2.99, this app carries a hefty price to pay for a simple list of do-it-yourself tips.

What's particularly troubling is that both the iGrow and War Removal apps are listen in the "Medical" category on the iTunes store. Unless the app is providing actual medical services, such as measuring heart rate or allowing you to communicate to a real doctor, these apps are technically not 'medically' valid.

"As far as these spps claiming to help your health, the technology is just not there yet." says Dr. Matthew Keefer, a physician and app developer at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. "Bottom line: We cannot remove warts by our phones. We cannot increase penis size from an iPhone. So, if you’re hoping to get these things, see a doctor. Don’t spend your money thinking an app will do this for you, it won’t."

But despite the lack of science behind such apps, some naive consumers are still willing to fork over money for them, whether they know they're being ripped off or not.

“If people are willing to buy these apps, app developers will create them," Ruben said.  "Just as there are people scamming you in the real world, there are people scamming you in the app world. The difference is, as an app user, you really can't go back into the store and yell at the manager." In the app world, developers can hide behind their laptops.

"My advice is to know what you’re getting into, beforehand. Read the reviews, read the comments, every single time that’s the key right now." Ruben said.

Getting back your money (or at least trying)

Now what? Apple seemingly does its best to make the App Store refund procedure a bit of a mystery. Here is a find a step-by-step guide on how to request a refund for an app that wasn’t quite what you expected. But even if you take the proper steps, there's no guarantee you'll get your money back. In fact, we tried submitting a refund request with Apple for the $11.99 purchase of the fake ‘Microsoft Word 2010’ app one week ago, and we've yet to hear back, let alone receive a refund.

  1. Open the iTunes Application on your computer.
  2. Open the iTunes tab, located in the left-hand column of iTunes.
  3. Next click the arrow next to your username (email address) on the top right and select ‘Account’.
     
  4. Scroll down to ‘Purchase History’ and click ‘See All’.
     
  5. Find the iTunes invoice with the application you would like a refund for. Click Report a problem.
     
  6. Fill out the form that follows and be sure to be as detailed as possible. Click Next when finished.
  7. That’s it. Once your request is submitted, you’ll have to wait for Apple to get back to you.

What about Androids?

It used to be that you had 24-hours in the Android App store to evaluate an App and request a refund if you weren’t satisfied. In December of 2010, Google changed the policy – you better act quickly. Now, you only have 15 minute from the time the App is downloaded to request a full refund.

But, the good news is, if you’re using a DROID phone, your chances of getting a refund for unsatisfactory App might be a little higher. If you request a refund in that 15-minute window, Google says it will return your money in a 48-hour window.

If you downloaded an App within the past few minutes, hurry up and:

  1. Launch the Android Market app on your phone.
  2. Press your phone's Menu button.
  3. Touch the My apps option.
  4. Touch the app you want to "return."
  5. Touch the Uninstall & Refund button. This is important. If you only have an Uninstall button and don't see the & Refund part, either this was a free app or your 15 minutes has already expired.

Confirm that you want a refund, your app will be uninstalled, and you'll receive your refund. If you’ve missed the 15 minute window, Google suggests that you contact the vendor directly. Just know that the vendor isn’t under any obligation to give you a refund.

UPDATE, Fri., May 18, 2012: It's been more than three weeks since we submitted a refund request from Apple. We've still heard nothing.