Cannes Lions will investigate the award-winning fake app that claimed to help refugees

Update 23/06: Organisers of the Cannes Lions awards have released a statement saying that it will investigate the 'refugee-finding' app by Grey Singapore that was revealed not to work at all by security researcher SecuriTay, which was awarded a Bronze prize earlier in the week.

In a statement released by email, the organisation says:

"Cannes Lions can confirm a review of the 'I Sea' app, created by Grey Group Singapore, after the veracity of the app was brought into question.

"The work claimed a Bronze in the Promo & Activation Lions where it was also shortlisted, as well as being shortlisted in the Mobile, Media and Direct Lions.

"Following concerns expressed about aspects of its functionality, a review will be conducted with Grey Group Singapore following the Festival."

Gray responds

Gray has insisted that "the app is real" but "in testing mode", telling tech site Ars Technica that "the attack on us by [an] unnamed ‘tech blogger’ is the fraud in all of this. [It's] not worthy of comment let alone coverage."

Read: our pick of the Cannes Lions 2016 winners (and they're all real)

Here's our original story on the revelations by SecuriTay about the app.

Does design get much more inspiring than when it helps the vulnerable – and any less so than when an app's claim that it can scan the Mediterranean for adrift refugees is revealed as an ocean of lies?

As the immense refugee crisis worsens in Europe and the public cries for a way to help refugees gets louder, the app I Sea was well-timed for awards, and soon met success with a Bronze Cannes Lion from the Cannes Lions Festival’s Promo and Activation category.

Using real-time satellite footage, the app claims to help you identify boats in trouble and alerts the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (Moas). According to its website, it “divides the satellite images into millions of small plots. Every user is assigned a unique plot of the sea to monitor.”

Many sizeable cheeks are blushing - from Apple, who listed I Sea in the App Store and has since removed it, to publications that covered the app, such as Reuters, CBS News, Wired and Mashable.

The app was, after all, a terrible fake soon uncovered by technologists, led by SecuriTay (shown below).

Image: tweets by SecuriTay

I Sea is similar to previous apps – such as Uepaa, which turns smartphones into life-saving tracking, alerting and rescue devices by enabling users to raise emergency alarms from areas with no mobile reception. But with one key difference: Uepaa actually, definitely works.

How can a non-functioning app fool anyone, let alone an institution set up to be discerning? These relevations will add to the questions being fired at design award shows, ad awards being a particularly hot target. Agencies often create work solely for that festival or even fake work in a frenzied rush for recognition. Maybe I Sea is an appropriate winner, then: a celebration of winning awards rather than good work.

The app's creators Grey Singapore wrote in a blog post that the “app is currently in testing mode” – though this wasn’t deemed worth a mention on the App Store nor the website – and that “at this time it is loading mapping satellite images to its GPS coordinates and users are able to report an anomaly in their plot of sea.” 

Though promoted by a video that remembers the 5,350 refugees who lost their lives at sea in 2015, which you can watch on its website, it’s hard to see how the current app's apparently sole aim of reaping awards helps anyone other than Grey Singapore.

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