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.)

4 comments to Amazon Takes On Fake Review Services

  • It seems I forgot to properly close the blockquote HTML code so the comment I just left looks a bit wonky. Sorry about that.

  • I fear this is going to be a game of whack-a-mole. There are so many of these review mills and their marketing is slick. Many new authors don’t know they’re illegal, because these people promise “honest” reviews, and some even use the Amazon logo on their site and claim to be part of Amazon.

    The problem is authors can’t get into Bookbub and other newsletters–the best way to advertise books these days–if they don’t have a huge number of 4 and 5- star Amazon reviews. (Reviews on other sites don’t count.)

    So an awful lot of authors are turning to these review mills thinking it’s the way it’s done. Authors are not entirely to blame. I wish Amazon would make more of an effort to educate authors on what is okay and what isn’t. You have to search for the TOS, which are wordy, murky, and written in a flyspeck font.

    Bookbub is an Amazon affiliate and they could do their part too. I’ve been saying it for years, but they don’t all read my blog (or yours.) Alas.

  • Weirdmage

    Eh… I do not trust Amazon because they do not realease actual sales numbers. (And even those will mean nothing unless we get to see how they do promo, including “also bought”, on their site.)

    People on glass houses should not throw stones…

  • I’ll never understand how anyone can be so unscrupulous!

    Hey, I want reviews as much as the next guy, but paying for fake ones is absolutely ridiculous. While you’re at it, why don’t you just have someone else write your book for you?

    At this point in time, I don’t have a lot of 5 Star reviews on my books, but the ones I do have are more appreciated than those reviewers will ever know! And even if I don’t get hundreds and hundreds of reviews, at least I’ll know I did my best and did it honestly.

    I’ll be looking forward to the outcome of this case.

    Sharon

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