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Grey Singapore’s ‘fake’ refugee-saving app removed from Apple app store, slammed by client, wins at Cannes

I SeaGrey Singapore’s ‘I Sea’ app to save refugees from drowning, which was called out as a fake by technology experts yesterday, has been removed from the Apple Store and criticised by the client for not working, but has been awarded at the Cannes Lions advertising awards show.

The app, which supposedly enables people to scan the Mediterranean ocean for stranded boats carrying fleeing migrants, is no longer available for download on Apple’s app store.

Created by Grey’s philanthropic arm Grey for Good for the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, the app was rounded on by tech writers on Twitter who tested it and found that, among other flaws, an old screenshot was repeatedly being presented as a live image of the ocean, and the weather reading was bogus. One software developer described ‘I Sea’ as a “terrible fake”.

But the app won Bronze Lions in the Promo & Activation category at the festival in the South of France last night.

Grey has not responded to repeated requests for comment, but a statement on the agency’s website declares that the app is currently in “testing mode”.

Grey Singapore’s statement in full:

On World Refugee Day, Grey for Good wants to thank all those who are helping us develop the I SEA app. I SEA – an app developed by Grey for Good in support of MOAS – aims to bring humanitarian and technological efforts together in order to have a concrete impact on the continued refugee crisis at sea. Currently in its testing period, the app is a tool which crowdsources the ability to scan the sea for migrant vessels in distress. With global forced displacement having reached an all-time high (65.3 million people at the end of 2015), any efforts to help those fleeing war and persecution are greatly welcomed.

The I SEA App is currently in a testing mode. 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 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 continued interest and suggestions from people who have already tried it around the world, especially on this, World Refugee Day, are all valued opinions which will be incorporated into the final product.

The client, MOAS, has told British IT title The Register that it had not been involved in the creation of the app.

“The Migrant Offshore Aid Network did not develop the app with Grey for Good nor do we feel that there [are] any advantages to having the public scan old sat images for potential disasters that in reality unfold in seconds,” an MOAS spokesperson said.

“MOAS has performed life and death rescues in real time using two ships, commercial drones and Search and Rescue Crews in the Central Mediterranean since 2014. The majority of our rescues are coordinated in real time from the Rome Rescue Coordination Center in which MOAS often takes the lead. Saving lives is a serious business, with serious consequences for not maintaining the highest standards of professionalism.

“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,” the spokesperson commented.

Mumbrella has approached Cannes Lions for comment over the legitimacy of I Sea.

According to Cannes Lions’ newly published rules on scam – work created purely to win awards – the festival states that: “Speculative and conceptual advertising are not eligible for entry.”

The festival has historically taken a forgiving view of dubious entries, and has declined to withdraw any campaigns that have been called into question following investigations from Mumbrella that have demonstrated a breach of Cannes Lions’ own rules.

Last year, the credibility of a grand prix-winning idea to curb anaemia in Cambodia, Lucky Iron Fish, was called into question after it emerged that the agency had falsely claimed credit for the project. Cannes backed that entry too, although the agency gave the award to the client.

Mumbrella has also approached the chairman of the jury for the Promo & Activation Lions, Rob Reilly, about the decision to give I Sea an award. Grey Singapore creative director Cinzia Crociani was a member of the Promo & Activation Lions judging panel.

A case study video for the app from Grey describes the ongoing tragedy in the Mediterranean as “one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time” and claims ‘I Sea’ can provide a solution.

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