Business: Reviews on Amazon Five-star fakes
The evolving fight against sham reviews.
“I will post awesome review on your amazon product,” bess98 declared on Fiverr, a website where individuals sell freelance services for $5 or more.
On October 16th Amazon charged that bess98 and more than 1,000 others were illegally hawking customer reviews.
The case comes just six months after Amazon sued the operator of four sites peddling similar stuff, including the subtly named buyamazonreviews. com.
Like Amazon, other websites have fought fakes with lawsuits, carefully honed algorithms and even sting operations—Yelp, a popular review site, has had undercover staff answer ads from firms seeking glowing write-ups.
Yet the problem persists.
For as long as there have been online reviews, there have been fakes.
The motivation is clear: for example, one extra star on a restaurant's Yelp rating boosts revenue by 5-9%, according to Michael Luca of Harvard Business School.
Mr Luca and Georgios Zervas of Boston University have shown that restaurants seeking fake acclaim are likely to be independent—online reviews matter more to them than to chains with established reputations.
So some businesses ask friends to post raves, seek reviewers-for-hire and offer customers discounts in exchange for praise.
For websites that claim to be an impartial resource, such practices are troubling.
“While small in number,” Amazon contends in its new suit, “these reviews can significantly undermine the trust that consumers and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers place in Amazon.”
The problem is particularly irksome for sites dedicated to offering reviews, such as Yelpand TripAdvisor.
Amazon sells everything from books to lawnmowers; Yelp's main offerings are its 83m reviews.
“If consumers can't rely on the content,” says Vince Sollitto of Yelp, “then the service is of no value.”
So websites have tried to fight fakes.
Algorithms comb reviews for suspicious wording.
Expedia allows hotel recommendations only by those who have paid for a room there.
Amazon tags a review as “verified” if the writer has indeed bought the product.
Presumably such reviews are more reliable, though bess98 is one of many who claim to be able to game Amazon's system.
Yelp may have the most aggressive strategy.
An algorithm removes a whopping 30% of posts from Yelp's list of “recommended” reviews, though consumers can still see the suspicious ones if they like.
Businesses that try to weasel their way to a higher rating (paying off grumpy clients, for instance) have their Yelp pages branded with a red warning.
Despite all this, some false acclaim and critiques inevitably slip past firms' defences.
For websites, fake reviews will remain a stubborn headache.
Meanwhile businesses are finding new ways to boost their reputations online.
Social bots—lines of code that pose as real accounts—can build buzz on social-media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
For the average consumer, it may become ever harder to distinguish real praise from puff.