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Businesses The Courts

Amazon Sues To Block Fake Reviews 126

An anonymous reader writes Amazon has filed suit against operators of sites that offer Amazon sellers the ability to purchase fake 4 and 5 star customer reviews. The suit is the first of its kind and was filed in King County Superior Court against a California man, Jay Gentile, identified in Amazon's filings as the operator of buyazonreviews.com. The site also targets unidentified "John Does" who operate similar sites: buyreviewsnow.com, bayreviews.net, and buyamazonreviews.com. From the article: "The site buyazonreviews.com, which the suit claims is run by Gentile, didn't respond to a request for comment. But Mark Collins, the owner of buyamazonreviews.com, denied Amazon's claims. In an email interview, Collins said the site simply offers to help Amazon's third-party sellers get reviews. 'We are not selling fake reviews. however we do provide Unbiased and Honest reviews on all the products,' Collins wrote. 'And this is not illegal at all.'"
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Amazon Sues To Block Fake Reviews

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  • Interesting, how would you prove a review is fake, written with no experience of the product? Even more interesting is the question that is for example audiophile magazines have been known to do fake reviews sometimes (I guess the amount of proven cases is like 1 or something) how does that relate to this case?
    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:37AM (#49445437)

      Interesting, how would you prove a review is fake, written with no experience of the product?

      Doesn't really matter if it is fake or not if it is paid. If the review is a paid review then it is by definition written with at least a secondary motive and therefore by definition cannot be considered unbiased. Buying reviews arguably harms the reputation of Amazon and could affect their sales and thus would potentially constitute tortious interference [wikipedia.org] with their business.

      • by neoform ( 551705 )

        Define "paid review" please.

        If you review movies on a tv show, you're paid by your advertisers, a lot of whom will be movie production companies showing trailers for their movies...

        It's easy to see the correlation these fake amazon reviews have to their bankrollers, but there's a lot of existing gray area in the entire "review" industry, and people seem mostly ok with them.

    • by ruir ( 2709173 )
      As a customer I can suspect, but not prove much. Amazon can very easily correlate reviews, users and the IP addresses behind them and act accordingly. They are just probably going first to the attorney for those actions do not backfire on them.
      • According to TFS, that's not what they're doing. They can't sort out paid reviews in general. What they can do is act against anybody who's advertising reviews for payment. If they can keep out the commercial astroturfers, we'll have the ordinary biased reviews that we normally have to deal with.

    • Interesting, how would you prove a review is fake, written with no experience of the product?

      You don't. You assume all reviews are fake, therefore useless. Looks like the pay for review outfits will have a very short lifetime.

  • It's too late (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:12AM (#49445317)

    I ignore reviews on Amazon because the majority of them are already fake. I've purchased items on Amazon only to receive promotional material with them offering coupons and gift cards in exchange for writing a 5-star review.

    I do not trust the system at all.

    • If Amazon cares (and they appear to), shouldn't there be a route to reporting this stuff? Sending them a photo, or something?

      • by chefren ( 17219 )
        This article mentions some tool that can apparently differentiate between real and fake reviews: http://digitalmarketingmagazin... [digitalmar...zine.co.uk]
        • The linked article starts out: Most online reviews are worthless and the communities can be hotbeds for corruption and cheating.

          So, basically, the 'tool' to detect a fake review is any web browser.

          Community still matters. The 'review' of a book or recording that somebody you actually know in the real world is much more relevant than an 'online' review generated by a stranger.

    • Retarded reviews too (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There are the retarded reviews too:

      I just got it! It looks great! - 5 stars.

      I haven't finished the book yet, but 5 stars.

      Then there are the 5 star reviews by folks who come across as the author's pals or sycophants.

      And the ALL TIME champ for shit reviews (1 stars) is Pickety's "Capital in the 21st Century".

      Everyone who calls him a Communist obviously didn't read the book because for those of who did - or at least the introduction - would know what he thinks of Communism.

      • by JackieBrown ( 987087 ) <dbroome@gmail.com> on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:43AM (#49445475)

        There are the retarded reviews too:

        I just got it! It looks great! - 5 stars.

        You get both sides on that. "Arrived 1 date late. Christmas ruined! - 1 star."
        "My PS4 will not play my xbox games - 1 star."

        I usually filter reviews that have the most comments and reviews in the 2-4 range. If it's a tech product and you can tell the product description was translated online from Chinese to English (like you see for a lot of lower end Android stuff), I ignore any review that looks like it also went through the same online translator..

        My final filter (before actually reading the comments) is to ignore any positive or negative reviews that were written in all caps. Too much raw emotion screaming at me.

        • There are reviews which really really baffle me as well - I did a review for a TV I bought off of Amazon.co.uk in the Black Friday sales - it was a Seiki 4K 39" TV at a reasonable price.

          It arrived, I set it up and the sound was terrible, so I used an external sound bar - but there was horrific video lag regardless of the input used, it was between a third and half a second behind the audio. Also there was no way to set the TV audio to just optical out, you had to either mute the sound entirely (which left

        • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

          You also get products for which satirical reviews are themselves a meme, such as Three Wolf Moon shirts [amazon.com].

          (or are they fake?)

          Are they going to start suing over that as well?

      • by Smerta ( 1855348 )
        Yep, and how about the occasional review where the moron says something like, "I love the product, but (the shipment was late | the box was dented | the delivery man didn't smile), so, you know, 1 star."
    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      You sound like a Walmart shopper, looking only at the price tags. I first limit my search to 4 stars and above, then I look at what people say is good about the product, then I really dig in and look at what people hate about the product. If I see a bunch of 1 star reviews saying it breaks after several months of use, I'm going to go onto the next product.

      I learn more from bad reviews than good ones, but I do use the average rating to limit the sheer number of options.
      • If I see a bunch of 1 star reviews saying it breaks after several months of use, I'm going to go onto the next product.

        You have to bear in mind that sometimes the 1 star reviews are quite useless/fake. I was looking at a water heater on Amazon recently and there were a lot of one star reviews claiming the product broke and was terrible but most of the reviews were actually for a different and older version of the product which was no longer in production. I've also seen 1 star reviews that were clearly designed to astroturf the product.

        Point is, presume any review has ulterior motives unless you have evidence to think oth

        • by N1AK ( 864906 )

          Point is, presume any review has ulterior motives unless you have evidence to think otherwise.

          This is a logic I just don't get, but seems extremely common amongst /. readers. I use reviews on things like Amazon/Tripadvisor as a part of decision making process. I've made hundreds of purchases on-line over the years and am very satisfied with the results. If I'm looking to drop £10k on a car, or £500 on a TV then reviews site reviews are just a small art of my process, however if I'm buying a

          • This is a logic I just don't get, but seems extremely common amongst /. readers.

            Why? Do you think that all reviews are honest, legitimate and well formed opinions about the services provided by people who would actually be in a position to provide such a review? If so then you are being rather naive/foolish and I doubt you actually are. You can get useful information even if some of the "reviews" are fake but you need to read them with some default skepticism.

            Some things just aren't worth the time it would take to come to a good decision without using reviews, and using reviews (with a pinch of salt) has worked consistently.

            Nobody (sane) is saying don't use the reviews. Just have the default assumption that they may not be honest unbiased opinion

            • Nobody (sane) is saying don't use the reviews. Just have the default assumption that they may not be honest unbiased opinions because to do otherwise is foolish.

              On what basis would you discard that default assumption? Because if you can't think of one[1], it comes back to not using them.

              [1] apart from if you actually know the person. In which case you could ask him anyway, which still isn't using the review.

        • The second xkcd is actually how you should judge review stars in reality. Anything below 4 stars is crap with inflated # of stars due to fake reviews.

    • by blang ( 450736 )

      Well, you cannot really trust any review or rating system without doing a lot of sanity checking and your own home work.
      Look at the pattern in terms of reviews with similar language.
      Distribution of stars. Amount of gushing reviews.
      Competency of the reviewers. For this it helps to have some competency yourself.

      And your own subject matter expertise. If a product is aimed at beginners of anything, they will tend to write overly positive or negative reviews.
      Too positive, because they don't know how to assess th

    • by jythie ( 914043 )
      This highlights the basic problem with the hope that a reputation system is the key to making unregulated markets work, it presupposes that no manipulation of reputation will be done and all consumers have accurate information to base their buying decisions off of.
    • While I personally rely on Amazon reviews, there are a range of other sites [equivalent.com] that also partially abstract away the need to rely on them completely by doing independent research. Usually by the time I've researched a product I'm interested in, when I go to peruse the Amazon reviews, they're pretty much telling me what I already know. It's also important though to look at the lowest ratings and see whether they're of merit, or written by obvious dunces.
  • Unbiased and Honest (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:22AM (#49445351)

    "We are not selling fake reviews. however we do provide Unbiased and Honest reviews on all the products"

    Wow, that's priceless. Oh, wait, no, it does have a price. Want to know how this works? From the site itself:

    A purchase of your product is not required for us to post a review. If you would like a verified purchase review however we can buy your product first. If the cost is $2.00 or less we will cover the price. If it is more than this you will need to make arrangements with us to reimburse the cost. We are only accepting very limited amounts of verified purchase reviews, please contact us before ordering if you are interested in these.

    Price List:

            3 Reviews $74.26!
            5 Reviews (Reg: $124.50, w/ 20% $99.60!)
            10 Reviews (Reg: $249.50, w/ 20% $199.60!)
    .
    .
    .
            200 Reviews (Reg: $4887.50, w/ 30% $3421.60)

    I can see why Amazon wants to shut this down. It completely undermines the legitimacy of their user ratings system. Not a big surprise, of course, as just about any system will be gamed if at all possible when there's money involved.

    • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:41AM (#49445471)
      Note that it'snot cheaper to buy a bulk 10 (1 for 24.95) vs 5 (1 for 24.90). Strange...
    • "Unbiased and Honest" sounds like "Fair and Balanced".

      • Seems legit (Score:4, Funny)

        by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @09:31AM (#49445763) Journal

        "Unbiased" and "Honest" are capitalized. That's cruise control for credible.

        You can't explain that.

        • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

          "Unbiased" and "Honest" are capitalized. That's cruise control for credible.

          You can't explain that.

          Maybe they have 2 internal classifications or titles of reviews: one called "Unbiased" and another called "Honest"-hence the capitalizations. Then they are not technically not misleading in their advertisements.

    • by blang ( 450736 )

      Looks like a lucrative business,
      Maybe amazon should offer their own payola review service instead of shutting down these honest entrepreneurs.....

      • > Maybe amazon should offer their own payola review service instead of shutting down these honest entrepreneurs.....

        Why do you think they're shutting them down first?
        • No company would be stupid enough to destroy the integrity of their primary business for a little cash boost on the side.

          Oh, snap. Lenovo was [pcworld.com].

          Well, Amazon probably isn't quite that stupid.

    • Only allow reviews from people who have a logged purchase for the product, one review per purchase. That won't completely stop fake reviews ("Want to make easy money? Let us pay you to write reviews for products you buy!") but it will cut off 99.742% of them.
      • Amazon already has a "verified purchase" tag for reviews (read the quoted part of my post again), and of course it's already only one review per product for each customer. The "verified purchase" tag isn't required, but people are much more likely to discount a review if it doesn't have that tag. I'm guessing it's also weighted much lower in aggregate scores as well.

    • You can buy 200 unbiased reviews? What, do they use Mechanical Turk for this?

      Side note: It's unbiased if they don't know anything about the product!

  • Honestly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:22AM (#49445357)
    If these guys are so adamant that there is nothing wrong with paid reviews, ask them if they'd be willing to disclose in their reviews that they are paid.

    If I were Amazon, I'd include a check box "I am not being paid or compensated for this review"... at least then they'd have reason to delete any from paid reviewers.
    • The paid reviewer mark would be an ideal checkbox. It allows them to declare, can make Amazon enforce purchase from that user, and can ban reviewers who violate the terms. They can even use that to weight the reviews differently vs paid and unpaid. I presume they already weight the Amazon vs non-Amazon verified purchasers. (And if the feedback is good, a paid reviewer isn't necessarily a bad thing).

      • Re:Honestly (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @09:02AM (#49445579)

        Realistically, there's nothing about a review, paid or otherwise, that should require a purchase from Amazon. I can buy something in Sears and still provide perfectly valid information about the device on Amazon - it's the same device, after all, no matter where I buy it.

        • Amazon doesn't have a way to verify that you bought your item off of Sears (not that I know of at least). If they did, they would probably mark your review as verified. The mark is only there to make it more costly to post fake reviews. Amazon allows "unverified" reviews to allow people to post information about items they didn't buy off of Amazon. It is up to each individual to make their decision as to the validity of them.
        • by N1AK ( 864906 )
          Amazon don't think that buying it from amazon or not automatically makes the review different. What they do think is that knowing the account has bought the item decreases the likelihood of it being a fake review. I'm sure if they could easily tell who had really bought the item by another method they'd be happy to use it.
        • Other than verification that you actually did purchase the item instead of lying, no.
    • That's a good idea. In the meantime, we can thank Amazon for having the courage to make thst lawsuit.
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:27AM (#49445383)

    The "this is super and excellent" reviews don't tell me much. I look at the bad reviews. Usually you can get an idea if a product is any good by the type of bad review. If there are many good reviews, but one or two saying "delivered late", "wrong product", or "damaged in transit", then I figure that this can happen occasionally but can be sorted out if it does. Some reviews will be bad because of different use-cases ... if most people give high rating for sound quality on a radio but one or two say "distorts at high volume" then you'll probably be OK if you listen at reasonable volumes. Someone once gave a washer/dryer a 2 start review because it took over three hours for a complete wash/dry cycle. For us that didn't matter - we run it a few times a week and just set it going until it ends. Someone might complain about "complicated controls" on an SLR camera or "lack of flexibility" on a point and shoot ... again it might not matter to you.

    On the other hand if a lot of people complain about the general quality of an item, or lack of functionality that you would actually use then that's a good reason to stay away from one.

    • Indeed. Before a purchase I have a look at the 1-2-3 stars reviews on Amazon. That's the best way to figure out some important flaws that other people either didn't notice (yet) or they simply didn't care.
    • by Chris Katko ( 2923353 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @09:24AM (#49445707)
      What if companies are leaving bad reviews on competitors products?
      • by N!k0N ( 883435 )
        In my case, 1 star and 5 star reviews are filtered out (if possible) from the results I'm reading.

        2, 3, and 4 star reviews are where the meat of the "good" reviews are (i.e. the "Look, I'm not a pro, but still I consider myself better than average. Tried using features A,B,C,D that're listed as supported, and work flawlessly on [other brand of same thing], however those features do not work on this device." ). Obviously it's not a flawless system, but usually the reviewers giving it 2-4 stars ALSO incl
      • One thing I look at is fix-it boards. For example, I was recently looking for a washer-dryer. A certain company had a *LOT* of people asking on fix-it boards how to replace the element on the dryer, and noting that it died fairly early on or repeatedly.

        Try googling
        "[product] how to replace" or "[product] how to fix" and see what people are commonly asking about. Maybe it's a simple thing and even if it breaks now and then you don't care, but it gives you an idea of what commonly breaks down. Note that this

      • A BAD or a NEGATIVE review? Personally I don't have an issue with anyone (seller/buyer/competitor) who leaves a negative review provided it's accurate.

    • Sorting the reviews by "most helpful" helps a lot. In fact that seems to be the default sort of the review samples which show up on the right side at Amazon. Often you'll find a product with 4+ stars, but a significant fraction of the "helpful" reviews give it 1-2 stars. The helpful reviews also usually contain a lot of details about the product which are of interest to the prospective buyer (e.g. speed benchmarks for USB flash drives).
    • by RyoShin ( 610051 )

      I do the same, but try to ignore the 1-stars. They're often as brain-dead as the 5-star ones, and I'm sure at least a few give bad reviews from service/quality that is the result of their own ignorance, rather than a problem with the product or maker.

  • I base my purchases on the bad reviews not the good ones.
    • Re:whatever (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:31AM (#49445413) Homepage

      I base my purchases on the RESPONSE to the reviews. Sellers have the ability to respond to any buyer's reviews, manufacturer's appear to have the ability to respond to product reviews (I have recently seen a particular product for solar panels where the producing company was responding to the FAQ and product reviews with corrections), and other product reviewers will often correct misconceptions about the product propagated by users (e.g. the reviews of the Samsung 850 SSD's etc.).

      Nobody cares about a product, hotel, travel operator or whatever getting zero bad reviews - it just looks fake and suspicious, in fact. What we care about is how they responded to that.

      The most enlightening responses I've seen are from companies with top customer service. And they even respond with comments like "Actually, we have no record of your stay whatsoever, reviewer. Would you care to give us a booking number so we can trace your problem?", etc. for the fake reviews. The responses are much more useful and indicative of good service than the occasional idiot that marks an Amazon product as "1-star" because some third-party seller sent it to the wrong address, etc.

    • The actual content of the reviews doesn't matter much. Whether intentionally or not, people filter out products with less than 4 stars, and Amazon ranks more popular items higher. It's a virtuous circle for the sellers that have higher-ranked reviews. Getting those initial good reviews can make all the difference between two similar or nearly identical products.

  • by tobiasly ( 524456 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @08:40AM (#49445463) Homepage

    Does that mean all 5000+ reviews for the Banana Slicer [amazon.com] will soon disappear?

  • Amazon can stop fake reviews by putting real fear into the minds of sellers. If a seller is caught in a fake review scam, Amazon should force the seller to accept returns. Until then, I give Amazon two stars in their efforts to control fake reviews. I'm looking forward to Amazon rolling over the perps and exposing their cheating clients. Fake reviews are against the law in some jurisdictions.

  • I feel like the overall assumption is that people are buying good reviews about their own product.

    I wonder how these companies feel about posting bad reviews for a competing product.

  • The site also targets unidentified "John Does"

    It's the suit which is also targetting unidentified John Does, not the site.

  • How can you prove that they are fake? Because the site says so in it's opening paragraph:

    Are you tired of your products not being seen, tired of competitors leaving bad reviews? The solution is simple. Buy Amazon reviews. You can have unlimited 4 and 5 star reviews this week. Our skilled writers look at your product, look at your competitor’s products and then write state of the art reviews that will be sure to generate sales for you.

    BTW, requiring verified purchase does not solve the problem. That s

  • by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Friday April 10, 2015 @11:50AM (#49446839)

    Send payment and if I have mod points I'll apply them to your posts (or to those on the other side of whatever flamewar you're in) in a totally unbiased way of course:

    • Funny $5
    • Insightful $4
    • Troll $7

    .

    Buy 14, get one free !

  • If you want to control this kind of thing, require that users turn over something that can be tied to their real-life identity, like a cell phone #. Then verify that what they give you is real.

    Then make them swear that they have not received or been offered any compensation.

    If you later discover that they probably lied, you can sue them.

    As for people logging in from countries where suing the person individually is not an option, one thing you can do is limit the visibility of their comments, perhaps by lim

  • As a consumer Ive already decided which product I'm going to buy. I done the research long before i have decided WHO I,m going to buy it from. Those are the reviews i look, for reviews of the business.Do they ship in a timely manner? if there's something wrong with the product did they take care of the problem without hassles? those are the reviews that are important to me.
  • They should only allow reviews from people who actually purchased that product. Their reviews are already a mess, with tons of one star reviews for products that are really meant for the seller.

    They already have a mechanism for this too: http://www.amazon.com/gp/commu... [amazon.com]

    They just need to purge all the other reviews. There's so many scams and agendas both for positive and negative reviews, that nowadays I only trust verified purchase reviews anyway.

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