Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

April 13, 2015

Amazon Takes On Fake Review Services

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The actual impact of four- and five-star reviews on Amazon and other retailers' websites is a matter of ongoing debate, but their perceived importance is not.

Which explains why, if those reviews aren't accumulating on their own, there's a quick fix--as long as you're willing to hold your nose and open your wallet. Throw a virtual rock these days, and you'll probably hit a service that, for as little as five dollars, will create a glowing review of your product and post it online--even if the reviewer has never used or even looked at your product.

Authors are as vulnerable to the lure of the quick publicity fix as anyone else (perhaps even more so, given the crowded book marketplace and the struggle for discoverability). One of the most infamous examples of book boosting by dubious means is self-publishing superstar John Locke, who, as one of his publicity strategies, bought hundreds of book reviews from a service called GettingBookReviews.com. And Locke wasn't the only one. According to the New York Times, GettingBookReviews sold over 4,500 reviews in its relatively short career.

For retailers, fake reviews are a nuisance, not just because they violate Terms of Use but because they degrade the value of real reviews. Partly as a result of fake review scandals, consumers are far less trustful of reviews than they were a few years ago (there's even a website called Fakespot that purports to analyze Amazon reviews for veracity). Amazon has periodically tightened its review guidelines and purged reviews its algorithms identify as fake--sometimes deleting real reviews in the process

Now Amazon is taking more direct action. Last week, it filed suit against three websites it accuses of selling fake reviews. According to The Seattle Times,
The suit, filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court, accuses Jay Gentile of California and websites that operate as buyamazonreviews.com and buyazonreviews.com, among others, of trademark infringement, false advertising and violations of the Anticyber­squatting Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
Additional websites named are bayreviews.net and buyreviewsnow.com. As of this writing, only buyamazonreviews.com and buyazonreviews.com are still online.

From the full complaint, which can be seen here:
A very small minority of sellers an d manufacturers attempts to gain unfair competitive advantages by creating false, misleading, and inauthentic customer reviews for their products on Amazon.com. While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand. Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews. Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews. Defendants’ businesses consist entirely of selling such reviews....

Defendants are misleading Amazon’s customers and tarnishing Amazon’s brand for their own profit and the profit of a handful of dishonest sellers and manufacturers. Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping Defendants and disrupting the marketplace in which they participate.
Amazon is asking that defendants be ordered to hand over their profits, pay damages and attorneys' fees, and cease using Amazon's trademarks and services. It's also asking that they be required to "Provide information sufficient to identify each Amazon review created in exchange for payment, and the accounts and persons who paid for and created such reviews." Not good news, if you ever used one of these services.

I'll be following this case as it unfolds. Regardless of the outcome, it will be interesting to see whether it has a chilling effect on the business of selling fake reviews.

(Of course, you don't have to pay someone else to create fake reviews for you. If you're enterprising, unscrupulous, and willing to invest a lot of time in self-aggrandizement, you can do it all on your own.)

10 comments :

Pat Dilloway said...

I still get followed by fake Twitter accounts pushing bayreviews even though the site doesn't work anymore. So I told the last fake account that they should update their link before following more accounts.

Of course the "value" of some real reviews is debatable, the kind that are one word or so poorly written to be unreadable.

Artemis J Jones said...

Informative, glad I read this and re-tweeted.
I recently did three reviews on Amazon and one of the reviews was rejected, they sent me notice ( three time) and I re-wrote the review and it was rejected again. I just gave up , but never really found out why it was rejected, it read their guidelines and could not find any error.
AJJ

Anonymous said...

I get tweets inviting me to join sites with other writers who are sworn to write five-star reviews for each other. For free, I gather.

One tip-off to fake reviews is when a book has a large number of five-star reviews coupled with an extremely low sales-rank, or no sales rank at all. But the average shopper isn't going to notice the discrepancy. You'd think amazon would, but those reviews remain as far as I can tell.

Paul Tapp said...

Well done.Keep on with this investigation. Amazon must give priority to sourcing, exposing and prosecuting false reviews. It should also alert any reader who has purchased trash literature and reimburse for misleading advertising or face prosecution itself.
Most reviews are subjective anyway and advocacy groups too will use the star system to campaign for or against a publication. Many avid readers in today's download phenomenon depend heavily on reviews and star-systems as the ultimate reason for purchasing. Keep up your good work on exposing this.

suzanne jenkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dawn Pisturino said...

I never trust 4 and 5 star reviews because so many authors get their friends and relatives to post them. Most of the self-published stuff that I've read doesn't even merit 4 or 5 stars. I'm glad Amazon is cracking down.

Iola Goulton said...

Suzanne, if your friend had said she knows the author, the review may well have posted - Amazon may well see it as breaching FTC guidelines if she hasn't.

I've reviewed several books by authors I know (admittedly, mostly authors I know virtually, not in real life), and Amazon has never rejected a review. Of course, I always put "Thanks to XX for providing a free ebook for review" at the bottom. That covers the FTC guideline, and allows readers to assess the review on the basis I know the author well enough to get the book for free.

Victoria Strauss said...

Suzanne, I've heard from a number of people who've had similar experiences, or have had reviews they posted months or years ago removed for the same reason. I've also heard that sometimes Amazon has removed reviews written by authors simply because they are authors--even where there's no connection between the author reviewer and the author of the book. It's an example of how a broad effort to target fake reviews can spill over to affect genuine reviews. Although of course no one knows how Amazon determines who knows whom.

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

Buy Amazon Reviews. 3518 likes · 6 talking about this. Never has it been easier to get multiple 4 and 5 star reviews on your product page. buy amazon product reviews

Rick Carufel said...

Gotta love Amazon's duplicity, hypocrisy and lies. If you buy a review on fiverr it's against the rules, but if you buy a review from Kirkus, an Amazon company, for $600 it's just fine.

 
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