Why you BETTER think twice before posting fake reviews online!

Have you ever written a fake review on Yelp, Amazon or the App store to help promote a friend’s restaurant, new product or app? Did you think that it was’nt a big deal and that your comment wouldn’t hurt anybody? If so, now is the time to reflect and change your habits.

What is at stake:

There are two reasons explaining why fake reviews are dangerous for online businesses, whose models rely on trustworthy assessments of products and/or services:

1. Fake reviews kill transparency: by providing fake comments, one essentially removes any element of honesty and trust, which is at the cornerstone of ecommerce businesses. Take Amazon for instance. A fake product review creates friction in the supposedly seamless transaction process by providing false pieces of information. Amazon ends up with unaware customers, who might just end up purchasing subpar products.

 2. Fake reviews limit network effects: Amazon’s value proposition is offering an independent and neutral third party platform to sellers and buyers willing to do business with one another. If that platform becomes crooked and biased, and if sellers can effectively push their products with paid reviews, one can easily imagine online shoppers leaving the platform for better sources of information. Fewer shoppers, fewer sellers, fewer transactions, and in the end, a weakened market place platform with no network effects.

The Amazon police:

In an effort to cut down the risks associated with such threats, major online businesses that rely on ratings and reviews to operate have pulled out the big guns. Amazon is the best example:

Since April 2015, Amazon has launched a very aggressive campaign against fake review providers. It started by filing suit against the operators of buyazonreviews.com, buyamazonreviews.com, bayreviews.net and buyreviewsnow.com. Before these sites were taken down, they allowed any interested Amazon seller to buy fake 4-5 star customer reviews in order to boost sales. As for the sellers who commissioned fake reviews, Amazon banned them as well.

Yesterday marked the second step in Amazon’s crackdown of fake reviews and in its fight against those who create a poor ecosystem. This time, Amazon went directly at those using Fiverr.com to buy and sell Amazon reviews. In a nutshell, Fiverr is an online marketplace that allows users to offer small tasks and services for USD 5. Services include writing, editing, or programming, among others. With the help of Fiverr, Amazon spotted over 1,100 fraudulent individuals and sued them all with the hope that this will send a strong signal to those who try to play around its terms of service.

What more can be done:

With that said, small businesses do not have Amazon’s strike force and it is often too expensive and inconvenient for them to file suits. How can these smaller players combat fake reviews? I see a few ways smaller players can fight fraud from flourishing:

  • Make the review writing process more demanding by asking a series of personal questions that can help identify writers. This can help remove robots from writing the reviews.
  • On one hand, manually filter reviews and remove fake looking ones. This is time consuming and not perfect though. On the other hand, create algorithms that detect fake reviews.
  • Identify dishonest sellers, writers and tag them publicly as such on their profile. Run a zero tolerance policy for everyone to see. Yelp, through its consumer alerts program, along with TripAdvisor among others, are using this technique for instance.

Sources:

http://techcrunch.com/2015/10/16/amazon-files-suit-against-individuals-offering-fake-product-reviews-on-fiverr-com/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/10/us-amazon-com-lawsuit-fake-reviews-idUSKBN0N02LP20150410

http://www.geekwire.com/2015/operator-of-buyamazonreviews-com-responds-to-amazon-suit-insists-hes-doing-nothing-wrong/

http://www.businessinsider.com/yelp-fake-reviews-2012-11

By: Edouard Delvaux


1 Comment

  1. Evan Valentini

    In my opinion, a determined Amazon seller will be able to procure fake reviews without getting caught. The plethora of sites mentioned speaks to the fundamental challenge. For every site that is shut down a new one will crop up. The demand for this service on the merchant side is huge. How were they able to catch the vendors who commissioned these sites? Through the user accounts associated with the pay for review sites? I can't imagine they were able to catch more than a small fraction of them. Also note that once a merchant's competitors start buying fake reviews, that merchant is at a disadvantage if they fail to follow suit. Is it fair to punish a merchant trying to compete on a level playing field with those unscrupulous enough to buy good press? Enforcement must be consistent and punishment swift.

    The only consistently reliable way to prevent fake reviews is to have an extremely robust filtering algorithm (a la Yelp). Yelp was not the first online review platform but it was the first to find a cost-effective way to eliminate bogus reviews. Many genuine reviews also get filtered out however. Collateral damage. This irritates merchants and is hailed as evidence that Yelp is "unfair". Combine this with the huge stakes (restaurants for instance live and die based on Yelp reviews as shown statistically by Dr. Luca) and you have pressure and rationalization for cheating. Some businesses are straight up convinced the Yelp filter is a tool for extortion (getting merchants to pay for advertising) as evidenced by lawsuits against the company (http://mklnd.com/1ZbaCtD). An investigative report by Kathleen Richards of East Bay Express (http://bit.ly/1hoNUWc) found that "Several business owners likened Yelp to the Mafia, and one said she feared its retaliation." None of these suits have succeeded and I don't believe anything unsavory is going on on Yelp's side (though I suspect there may be a few renegade salespeople who may try to intimidate merchants as a sales tactic, implying that money can buy better reviews).

    Its interesting to note that some merchants are pursuing legal action against NEGATIVE reviewers of their businesses. See article here about Virginia woman being sued by construction contractor (http://onforb.es/1dEazgp). I went to a dentist in Chicago whose favorite hobby was to harass ex-patients posting negative Yelp reviews of his practice (via the comments section). Some businesses feel it is their god given right to deliver subpar services and not be held to account. Transparency is the enemy of the unscrupulous merchant. Once upon a time they were allowed to operate with impunity, now Yelp is calling them to account and they are running scared.