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Amazon Files Lawsuit Over 1,114 Fake Reviewers

     
11:03 am on Oct 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Some of those fake reviewers on Amazon are now being hunted targeted in the lawsuit Amazon filed in Seattle, U.S.A. I'm not sure how far they'll get with actually bringing these defendants to face court, but it will sure make some think twice about fake reviews.

"While small in number, these reviews can significantly undermine the trust that consumers and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers place in Amazon, which in turn tarnishes Amazon's brand," the technology giant said in its complaint, which was filed on Friday. Amazon Files Lawsuit Over 1,114 Fake Reviewers [bbc.co.uk]
3:15 pm on Oct 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Oops, there goes a fairly lucrative Fiverr sub industry.
4:08 pm on Oct 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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And will it work?

I think of the RIAA suing filesharing and that really could not staunch the bleeding in the music industry.

Whereas many big players (Microsoft is an unsung hero here) put resources into stopping email spammers both through taking out their botnets (often with the help of law enforcement) and creating algorithms and standards to stop spammers and has dramatically reduced email spam. Many say the spam wars have been won and, based on my inbox, that is the case for me.

Presumably Amazon is pursuing both approaches.

There are bigger issues with reviews than the fakes, though. What about the real reviews from people who are getting "consideration"? It is rampant.
5:22 pm on Oct 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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And will it work?


It'll probably scare off some review writers. No one wants to be sued for writing a $5 review.

More importantly, suing the fake review writers will probably make large companies think twice about engaging in a fake review strategy.
6:47 pm on Oct 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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>>large companies think twice about engaging in a fake review strategy

We have a competitor known for fake reviews... fortunately, they get enough bad real reviews that it only goes so far. In fact, our real reviews are better than their fakes (knock on wood... and all the customer service mojo we have... reviews are scary!).

Anyway, by most standards, they are small and way too small to pop up on the radar (I think). Ultimately the Amazons and Yelps and Trip Advisors of the world will need to find a Matt Cutts type of person. Perhaps they have that person. I don't know.

Compared to 2010 when Google was swimming in a cesspool of spam, I find the results remarkably clean now... though perhaps at the expense of not ranking fantastic pages that just don't meet the authority criteria. In any case, I don't find a similar cleaning for review sites, but I also don't find yet the quantity of fakes. So maybe it's okay.

I think there's a bigger issue online. So many reviews, even in print media (aside from NYT and top-shelf reviewers) are completely compromised by perks and freebies. They are, essentially, satellites of the PR industry. That to me is the far bigger problem than a few paid reviews on Fiverr and that is how companies of any size will massage their reviews.

It's not uncommon for a top Instagrammer or YouTube vlogger to get $20,000 to drive a car for a month and post about it and so much content is advertorial and so many users are unaware of the difference. Just the other day someone tried to tell me there were no ads on Google search results pages. I can't imagine that person is equipped to filter reviews and spot fakes, paid and so forth.
8:01 pm on Oct 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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The comparison with Google spam is apt. Amazon has algorithms too.

It's the world's largest marketplace after all and fake reviews translate into sales. More importantly they can translate into grabbing the buy box on a multiple seller product; which can translate into cash in the same dramatic way as a number one organic search result.

Since there's really no other way to game the buy box algorithm the amazing thing is that they haven't done something sooner. I don't know if lawsuits are the best way to go about it though...
8:19 pm on Oct 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Diverging slightly off topic, but I would dearly love to see Amazon take action against the scammers who sell pointless "boiler plate" web sites [as advertised on TV] to the gullible unsuspecting, with an Amazon account set up for them, affiliate links to Amazon, guaranteed "traffic" - all for telephone numbers on your credit card.

No results yet? Buy more guaranteed traffic then - give us all your money.

Over on the Amazon forums we've heard these legendary tales of woe for well over a decade. Amazon still won't act.

As an Australian, I find this hard to believe, we would see people in jail with massive fines with our Consumer Competition laws.
9:04 pm on Oct 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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See also: eBay. It's been happening there for even longer.

Thing is, who decides if a website (or anything really) for sale is a scam? Where do you draw the line? It's a challenging problem that I suspect both marketplaces have chosen to stay away from except in extreme cases.
10:58 am on Oct 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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$5 for a review! How is that going to be attractive unless you're out of reach of the long arm of the law!

In part, it's how reviews are interpreted. I usually look at the reviewers other comments and draw conclusions. If it looks strange, it probably is. But i can see why this can skew the sales, and more importantly, the reputation of Amazon if it's not taking a stance against false reviews. Such reviews don't help anyone, even the seller/merchant, as if the report is that "it's a fantastic product" and people get it home and decide it's not, the negative reviews will soon follow.
1:08 pm on Oct 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I generally disregard the best and worst reviews on the assumption that they may be fake.

One hotel we stayed at a couple years ago had a computer right next to the front desk, if you used it to post a positive review online you got $5.00 off the rate. I didn't fo for it.

.
3:11 pm on Oct 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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if you used it to post a positive review online you got $5.00 off the rate


Wow!

i can see why this can skew the sales


On many shopping sites - Amazon, Trip Advisor, Booking.com and many others, your ranking will be partly determined by your average star rating. On some sites, if you drop below a certain rating, you can disappear from the results. On one site I know of that rating is 3.8 so if you are a small merchant who has very few reviews, mostly 4 and 5 stars, but you get a competitor who comes in and posts a few one star reviews, POOF, you're gone!

There are a lot of systems that are aimed at gaming this. You send your customers a followup survey after purchase and ask them how they rate their overall experience. If they give you a 1-3, they get a form saying "We're sorry you weren't satisfied, please tell us more." If it's a 4-5, they get a form with links to major review sites - Amazon, Yelp, Trip Advisor depending on the sector.

I have also seen reviews that were demonstrably false, but not fake. Example: a customer gave a damning review of a hotel I was working for. However, the review claimed the customer was denied service, quoted the policy that was cited and the rate he was quoted. It turned out that the quote wasn't from any policy document that hotel used, the policy itself was counter to the demographic the hotel targets (he was denied service because he had a child and the hotel in question markets actively to families), the rate didn't correspond to any rate ever used at that hotel, and when the property got back to me, it turned out the guest had checked in and stayed and checked out in the morning. So clearly it was a guest who confused two different hotels during the same stay. That is the only time I've tried to have a review removed. The request was granted.
11:23 pm on Oct 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I once had very bad review put up on Yelp. The review was for services my company does. I went through 3 years of invoices and could not find the reviews name, so he never actually did business with me. He was either a competitor or was paid by a competitor to write the bad review.

Yelp would not take down the review, giving some rhetoric about companies can't change reviews and that's why Yelp is respected. It was extremely frustrating since that one review pulled my Yelp rating down an entire star. Then Yelp got in bed with Bing and my Bing & Yahoo Business listing also showed that degraded rating! However eventually enough good reviews came in and I was back to 5 stars.

These rating systems are easily manipulated. It is very easy to create false accounts. IP & email identification doesn't work. Someone at an office where there are a dozen or more machines, each with a different IP address can created as many accounts and game the system without much effort at all.
2:38 am on Oct 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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$5 for a review! How is that going to be attractive

Exchange rate != buying power.

Yelp is respected

!
2:57 am on Oct 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Customer reviews are a spin-off of social media & thus have entered into mainstream marketing. Most users I know will read reviews, but I don't know anyone who considers a business/product solely on the review. Still, they have a huge impact which is not likely to go away.

I haven't forgotten the Better Business Bureau (BBB) scandal a few years ago where they were caught receiving favors/pay for favorable reviews. Ever since then, when I see a BBB rating decal on the window of a local business, I consider the validity of the rating.
7:11 am on Oct 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think of the RIAA suing filesharing and that really could not staunch the bleeding in the music industry.

It all depends on how draconian the legislation is and how stringently applied. Under the proposed new TT(I)P legislation, hardware can be destroyed if used for circumventing DRM or infringing copyright. Everyone using a torrent site is by definition a target.
5:05 pm on Oct 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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>>how stringently applied

I think that's the crux of it. Risk managers like to say

Risk = Severity * Probability

Bring either one up enough and behavior changes.
7:31 pm on Oct 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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When you look at the names of the review sites it would appear to be an open and shut case: 'buyamazonreviews*com' hmmmm yeah good luck to the defence
9:16 pm on Oct 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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As far as I know the legal matters, Fiverr is obliged to release personal data of the people who offered the fake reviews (that is if the court orders them to release this info). From this perspective, it wouldn't be difficult to file separate lawsuits against the people who did it (no matter which country they reside in).

And while we're on it, Fiverr could also tackle its "inhouse" fake reviews. In other words, kick out everyone who's typed "Outstanding Experience" in the review box.
10:01 pm on Oct 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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That's the part I think is wrong. I don't blame Amazon for trying to discourage fake reviews. Even going after organizations that profit by employing large numbers of fake reviewers.

But going after individuals making a few dollars a review? They'll lose money in legal fees doing that. As someone mentioned it's very RIAA. Pure bullying.

You're a tech company, solve the problem with tech. I can think of a variety of things that would help off the top of my head.

What they're doing now is just going to encourage the market for fake reviews in India, eastern Europe, southeast Asia and etc.. Where they're much cheaper anyway. It won't solve anything.
4:44 am on Oct 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Ultimately this is about keeping and maintaining trust and true information. Once you lost that then no site ANYWHERE will be treated as an authority or go-to site. If you are in marketing, that kind of "bad press" (and I don't mean the fake review itself, I mean failing to police them) will do a great deal of harm.

RIAA like it might be, but nothing gets the public's attention than a few of them getting whacked with judgements and financial penalties.

We hate to see this happen, but I (and that's My Opinion) see it as necessary. A negative fake review on an otherwise sterling reputation will do more harm in the shortest amount of time for the least amount of effort and expense that you can think of. Businesses that live by reviews will be the most concerned, and amazon certainly qualifies in that regard.
5:09 am on Oct 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It didn't work for the RIAA, why would it work for Amazon?
5:39 am on Oct 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Er.... Amazon is a web presence. The RIAA is a dinosaur. That might make a difference. Will say that the RIAA debacle just make folks more careful of their theft. (winkers)
6:39 am on Oct 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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But going after individuals making a few dollars a review? They'll lose money in legal fees doing that. As someone mentioned it's very RIAA. Pure bullying

I disagree on all points. Those individuals making false reviews knew they were doing wrong - no sympathy from me. They were often causing commercial harm. Certainly causing commercial harm to Amazon's credibility and brand.

Legal costs? Ever seen a legal letter from a giant corporation? I have, one from Apple to a friend about 25 years ago about selling Apple 11 clones [paraphrasing]
"You have been a naughty boy, we are going to sue you for $Billions, however if you sign the attached agreement indicating you will not be naughty again, we will close the matter.

Meanwhile our lawyers enclose their invoice for work to date in the sum of $3,134.46. Please return your signed agreement and cheque in payment of costs to conclude this matter"

Your choice? Pay the $3,134.46 or face bankruptcy? What would you do yourself?
7:06 am on Oct 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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And (re: IanCp's comment), ignoring such a letter will result in Summary Judgement in most jurisdictions. Depending on your local laws that can mean your car, house, property and up to treble damages.

Getty you can ignore. I would not ignore Amazon. Different beast. RIAA came from a flawed start (there are many reasons why, even though the copyright thing prompting it did hold water), but fake and malicious reviews is something quite different. With RIAA only the obvious sharers/infringers were impacted, a small subset---the rest were just common thieves and did little BRAND harm. The fake reviews, on the other hand, attack companies and their BRAND bottom line.

And in all the above, the paid endorsement is required to be so noted in all countries (that I know of) and failure to so declare "advertorial" is generally illegal. (Laws in your country may vary)
 

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