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Apple removed Grey Group Singapore’s “I Sea” app, a program which claimed it would “empower the billions of us with smart devices” to help prevent refugee drowning deaths by ostensibly providing satellite footage to smart phone users who could then “flag” suspicious boats and report the information to Migrant Offshore Aid Stations. Last night, the campaign won a Promo and Activation Bronze Lion at the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
The problem? After days of positive press for its lofty promises of crowdsourced sea monitoring to prevent refugee drowning deaths, some technologists weighed in saying that the app doesn’t live up to its developer’s claims. They allege that rather than actual satellite footage, the app instead shows the same image to all users, coupled with a weather report from Libya designed to give the impression that they are watching a live satellite feed.
Grey wrote in a June 19 blog post that the app “is currently in a testing mode,” claiming that “it is loading and mapping satellite images to its GPS coordinates and users are able to report an anomaly in their plot of sea” as of publication. The agency released a video promoting the app on June 15 (see below), which seemingly presents the app as fully operational. The work was supposedly a collaboration with the Migrant Offshore Aid Stations, but it appears that the organization did not actually work with Grey in creating the app.
“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,” the organization told U.K. publication The Register. “We were asked to support the launch of the app in concept only. So we were included in a press release.”
Sources close to the matter tell us that Grey Singapore almost certainly rushed the app’s release to coincide with both the Cannes Festival and World Refugee Day, which was Monday.
The fact that the work won a Cannes Lions before the app was operating as intended has led some to question Grey Group Singapore’s motivation in creating “I Sea,” with Gawker going as far to call it “vile PR stunt.”
“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.”