Amazon has a real fake review problem

A "vast web" of fraudulent reviewers have come to dominate Amazon, with shills being paid cash to order a product, photograph it on arrival, and write a glowing, 5-star review.

This isn't a new problem: in 2016, Amazon sued a raft of its own sellers over the use of fake reviews.

But upside of fake reviews — huge profits reaped from sales of cheap, substandard goods — are handsome, so the legal threats have only driven the fake reviews underground and increased the fakesters' tradecraft; Amazon says it is fighting back with investigations of "non-Amazon forums," looking for job markets where fake reviews are purchased; and the company is deploying machine learning systems to spot shills.

Of course, fake 5-star reviews aren't the only problem. The sprawling Facebook forums where fake reviews are bought and sold are also full of offers to purchase fake 1-star reviews on competitors' products.

Quack remedies are a favorite among fake reviewers, with money to be made for lauding boric acid vaginal suppositories, turmeric curcumin vitamins, and myoinositol capsules.

Paid review writing is the modern lemonade stand. According to the people who do it, it's a quick, easy way to earn a few bucks and get free stuff — but not a career. And because the bidding, writing, and transaction happen online, it can all be done from a laptop in your bedroom.

Many reviewers who spoke to BuzzFeed News are men in their late teens or early twenties who viewed the activity as a hobby. All wished to remain anonymous, out of fear of being caught by Amazon, which typically results in revoked reviewing privileges or, in the most severe cases, being banned from reusing the same delivery address or payment method with a new account.

Josh, which is not his real name, is fairly new to reviewing; he discovered it through /r/slavelabour. He said he's in it for the stuff: "You get to keep the product, so that's a plus. It's interesting to test out new and unique products in my opinion."

The most industrious paid reviewers become moderators and begin facilitating review deals themselves. Frank, whose name has been changed, manages an Amazon review Slack channel in his spare time. The entrepreneurial 18-year-old scours Amazon for products that aren't well-rated and offers the product's seller his Slack channel's review services. Listings with a small number of reviews and a low-star rating are ideal candidates. "If [a product listing] has 30 reviews with an average of 2.5 stars, it's worth it and I'll reach out," he said.

Inside The Ecosystem That Fuels Amazon's Fake Review Problem [Nicole Nguyen/Buzzfeed]

(via Four Short Links)