Amazon’s Fake Review Problem

How much trust can be put in a customer review of a product on Amazon?

As a recent story from Consumerist argues: not much, and perhaps less so as time goes on.

While acknowledging that Amazon has recently put a ban on most forms of “paid” reviews, the Consumerist story draws attention to something of a workaround that marketing sites have found, offering consumers free or deeply discounted products in exchange for favorable reviews. It’s effectively another version of paid reviews, posits the outlet, and — with some of these alternately compensated reviewers writing significant numbers of reviews a day — the practice is threatening the viability of all user-contributed reviews on the website.

In examining a series of consumer reviews on Amazon for a Lumia 650 smartphone, Consumerist found signs of an apparent — and suspicious — conflict of interest. Although all of the amateur (and largely positive) reviews included mentions — in accordance with Amazon’s rules — that their authors had received the product for free or at a discount, Consumerist notes that the phone in question had not yet been released at the time that the reviews were posted.

Investigating those users further, the outlet discovered that, beginning Jan. 1, they averaged more than 400 reviews posted to Amazon since that date (one user, according to Consumerist, had managed to post about 950 reviews in a month’s time). Given those numbers, the massive amount of wide-ranging items that were covered and the fact that a majority included five-star ratings, Consumerist posits that it is quite unlikely that all of the compensated reviews were legitimate.

The outlet brought its case to Amazon, which then took down some of the questionable reviews.

Although the eCommerce giant did not share with Consumerist its plans — if any — to address this new form of “paid” consumer reviewer, a company representative gave the following statement:

“We do not allow paid reviews and terminate accounts that abuse the system or violate our guidelines. That being said, the vast majority of reviews on Amazon are authentic, helping millions of customers make informed buying decisions every day. Our goal is to make reviews as useful as possible for customers.”


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