How the Top Charts of Apple’s Podcasts App Were Totally Manipulated

Apple Podcasts Credit: iMore
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If you noticed that the top charts on Apple’s Podcasts app were a little off over the weekend, you aren’t alone. A new report indicates that the rankings were likely directly manipulated over the weekend.

Serial, to offer just one example, is one of the most popular podcasts on Apple’s platforms. It also just came out with a new season. And yet, on Monday, it ranked as low as No. 26 on the charts, Business Insider pointed out.

The top spot, on the other hand, was taken up by lesser-known and newer podcasts. For example, “Bulletproof Real Estate with Andy Dane Carter.” If that doesn’t sound like it should be No. 1, that’s because it shouldn’t be.

Other podcasts that seemingly ended up in sketchy positions include workout and business shows, which BI notes aren’t the typical fare for top ranks in the charts.

As of Tuesday, the Top Charts have seemingly returned to normal. Serial was No. 1, closely followed by other podcasts you’d expect. Apple hasn’t commented on the matter.

A number of people noticed that the charts were distinctly broken over the weekend. Some even did their own investigation into the matter.

BI points out that the charts showed a “highly unusual amount of manipulation” over the weekend, even in an era when entities like click farms are running rampant on the iTunes Podcasts store.

Click farms are a likely explanation. The publication notes that top show rankings are determined by subscriptions, while top episode rankings are determined by actual listens.

As further evidence of this, Bulletproof Real Estate and other podcasts in the top show category did not have a single episode in the top episodes list.

Discover Pods, a Twitter dedicated to finding and publicizing new podcasts, noted that these click farms can manipulate the charts and get a relatively unknown podcast in the top 20 rankings for around $50.

While Apple fixed the problem, BI notes that the weird rankings just “underscore” how much power Apple has in the podcast industry — seeing as it owns and operates the platforms where as much as 55 percent of listeners get their podcast content.

Because of that power, it’s not a stretch that ranking manipulation is a problem. And it’s one that Apple should address. Luckily, its relatively quick reaction indicates that it probably is.

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