Apple Pulled This App From iTunes the Same Day It Won a Lion at Cannes

Amid controversy over functionality

CANNES, France—Apple yanked an app from iTunes just hours before it won a bronze Lion at this week's creative festival. The move came after a tech blogger called out the I SEA app—designed to help users find migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea—for being "fake," and the agency responsible admitted that the product is still in its testing phase and not ready for public distribution.

The app, which was created by Grey Singapore for the privately funded migrant rescue service Migrant Offshore Aid Station, or MOAT, won media coverage before the festival began. But negative attention began to build after an anonymous tech blogger who uses the Twitter handle @SwiftOnSecurity tweeted, "I intuitively knew this app was fake within 20 seconds of using it."

I SEA was among the many winners in the Promo and Activation category after being shortlisted for its use of data, mobile technology and "public sector and awareness messages." Grey Singapore described the entry as "a mobile app that, in collaboration with e-Geos Satellite Imaging Company and Migrant Offshore Aid Station, crowdsources the search of the Mediterranean Sea for migrants and refugees who are crossing it in unseaworthy boats."

The office also made a video case study to promote the work.

The concept is inspiring, but various tech outlets downloaded and tried to use the app and found that it was not functional. The primary issue concerned a GPS feature which promised to provide real-time screenshots of areas in the Mediterranean Sea where migrant vessels might be located but did not appear to work. Instead, it repeatedly produced the same still image of the open water. Apple later pulled the app from its App Store, and it is not currently searchable or available for download.

"The I Sea app is real and was designed by Grey for Good in Singapore, our philanthropic communications arm, that has a great reputation working for many worthy causes around the world," a Grey network spokesperson told Adweek. "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."

After the controversy began, a representative for the MOAT organization told U.K. publication The Register, "The Migrant Offshore Aid Network did not develop the app with Grey for Good. … All we can say on the developers' behalf is that the app probably sounded interesting in concept form but failed miserably in execution. We were asked to support the launch of the app in concept only. So we were included in a press release."

Sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Adweek the app was intended to function as promised, and the parties involved in its creation are still working on an arrangement with the aforementioned satellite-imaging company to produce real-time imagery. 

Adweek has reached out to the Cannes Lions' PR department to request comment and will update this story if and when the organization responds.