Amazon Throws the Book at Fake Review Writers

An "unhealthy ecosystem" has developed outside of Amazon and it has been harming the company's website, Amazon said in a complaint filed last week in Washington State Superior Court. The suit alleges that 1,114 "John Does" placed fake product reviews on the company's website. The perpetrators apparently have been selling reviews through Fiverr, for as little as $5 each.

An “unhealthy ecosystem” has developed outside of Amazon and it has been harming the company’s website, Amazon said in a complaint filed last week in Washington State Superior Court.

The suit, which alleges that 1,114 “John Does” placed fake product reviews on the company’s website, follows a legal offensive Amazon launched earlier this year against websites that offered fake reviews for sale.

The common bond shared by the latest group of defendants is that they all “claim that they will provide reviews of products or Kindle books for any interested Amazon seller,” the complaint says.

Flushing Out the Fakes

The perpetrators apparently have been using Fiverr, a services marketplace where odd jobs can be purchased for as little as US$5.

However, Fiverr is not a defendant in the suit, said Amazon spokesperson Julie Law.

“While we cannot comment on active litigation, we can clarify that this lawsuit is not against Fiverr, it is against individuals who are providing these reviews and undermining customer trust on Amazon,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

The subjects of the suit have been selling positive reviews — oftentimes five-star ratings — for products on Amazon, thus harming the integrity of its site, according to Amazon.

Amazon has “developed sophisticated technologies and protocols to detect and remove such reviews from its websites,” it said in the complaint. However, that hasn’t been enough to stop the fake reviews from adulterating the purity of real user feedback.

Amazon verified the fraud through its own investigation, it said, seeking out and paying for positive reviews from Fiverr users.

The vast majority of reviews on Amazon are authentic, helping millions of customers make informed buying decisions, noted Law, “and our goal is to make reviews as useful as possible for customers. We continue to use a number of mechanisms to detect and remove the small fraction of reviews that violate our guidelines. We terminate accounts that abuse the system, and we take legal action.”

Solving the Problem

Amazon intends to amend the complaint to identify each of the defendants by name as the information becomes available.

It has not named any of the sellers who have been hiring fake reviewers, however, said Jen Roach, partner at Thompson Hine.

“Pursuing the companies that sell fake reviews and the individuals writing those reviews leaves the source of the problem — the sellers purchasing those reviews — unchallenged,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “As long as that is the case, and it is still costly to monitor, detect and pursue action against fake review writers, it seems Amazon will still be contending with fake reviews.”

Sellers certainly have been a key part of the problem, Amazon noted in its latest complaint. They often wrote their own positive reviews, which Fiverr users then placed.

“You know the your [sic] product better than me,” read one Fiverr user’s ad. “So please provide your product review, it will be better.”

For merchants, the most compelling cases for buying fake reviews are instances in which they are the sole seller of a particular product, or they stock more of an item than anyone else on Amazon, noted Gilad Komorov, chief revenue officer at Feedvisor.

“In all other cases, they could potentially invest in promoting the product on search results, but in the end, see one of their competitors get the deal,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

As for Amazon, a decline in review credibility can yield a loss of trust in the system, said Komorov, and that can hurt sales.

“Amazon’s interest is to promote high-quality products by ensuring they get discovered first,” he said, “and product reviews play a key role in this strategy.”

Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.

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