Current focus: EndSoftwarePatents.org: wiki, mailing list, news, donate

Amazon reviews are fake

In 2004, a technical glitch on amazon.ca caused the site to display commenters real names instead of their nickname. It turned out that many of the comments by "readers" were actually posted by the author or publisher of the book. This was widely reported in the media, but the articles keep disappearing, so I've started documenting the articles here and I'll add a copy whenever I find one.

NYTimes: Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers

There are strange question marks in the article. Looks like a formatting glitch, maybe most of them should be hyphens.

[START OF ARTICLE]

Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers

By AMY HARMON
Published: Saturday, February 14, 2004

Close observers of Amazon.com noticed something peculiar this week: the company's Canadian site had suddenly revealed the identities of thousands of people who had anonymously posted book reviews on the United States site under signatures like "a reader from New York."

The weeklong glitch, which Amazon fixed after outed reviewers complained, provided a rare glimpse at how writers and readers are wielding the online reviews as a tool to promote or pan a book ? when they think no one is watching.

John Rechy, author of the best-selling 1963 novel "City of Night" and winner of the PEN-USA West lifetime achievement award, is one of several prominent authors who have apparently pseudonymously written themselves five-star reviews, Amazon's highest rating. Mr. Rechy, who laughed about it when approached, sees it as a means to survival when online stars mean sales.

"That anybody is allowed to come in and anonymously trash a book to me is absurd," said Mr. Rechy, who, having been caught, freely admitted to praising his new book, "The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens," on Amazon under the signature "a reader from Chicago." "How to strike back? Just go in and rebut every single one of them."

Mr. Rechy is in good company. Walt Whitman and Anthony Burgess both famously reviewed their own books under assumed names. But several modern-day writers said the Internet, where anyone from your mother to your ex-agent can anonymously broadcast an opinion of your work, has created a more urgent need for self-defense.

Under Amazon's system, any user may submit a review without publicly providing any personal information (or evidence of having read the book). The posting of real names on the Canadian site was for many a reminder that anonymity on the Internet is seldom a sure thing.

"It was an unfortunate error," said Patricia Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman. "We'll examine whatever happened and make sure it won't happen again."

But even with reviewer privacy restored, many people say Amazon's pages have turned into what one writer called "a rhetorical war," where friends and family members are regularly corralled to write glowing reviews and each negative one is scrutinized for the digital fingerprints of known enemies.

One well-known writer admitted privately ? and gleefully ? to anonymously criticizing a more prominent novelist who he felt had unfairly reaped critical praise for years. She regularly posts responses, or at least he thinks it is her, but the elegant rebuttals of his reviews are also written from behind a pseudonym.

Numbering 10 million and growing by tens of thousands each week, the reader reviews are the most popular feature of Amazon's sites, according to the company, which also culls reviews from more traditional critics like Publishers Weekly. Many authors applaud the democracy of allowing readers to voice their opinions, and rejoice when they see a new one posted ? so long as it is positive.

But some authors say it is ironic that while they can for the first time face their critics on equal footing, so many people on both sides choose to remain anonymous. And some charge that the same anonymity that encourages more people to discuss books also spurs them to write reviews that they would never otherwise attach their names to.

Jonathan Franzen, author of "The Corrections," winner of the National Book Award, said that a first book by Tom Bissell last fall was "crudely and absurdly savaged" on Amazon in anonymous reviews he believed were posted by a group of writers whom Mr. Bissell had previously written about in the literary magazine The Believer.

"With the really flamingly negative reviews, I think it's always worth asking yourself what kind of person has time to write them," Mr. Franzen said. "I know that the times when I've been tempted to write a nasty review online, I have never had attractive motives." Mr. Franzen declined to say whether he had ever given in to such temptation.

The suspicion that the same group of writers, known as the Underground Literary Alliance, had anonymously attacked his friend Heidi Julavits prompted the novelist Dave Eggers to write a review last August calling Ms. Julavits's first novel "one of the best books of the year."

(Page 2 of 2)

Mr. Eggers, whose memoir, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," made him a literary celebrity, chose to post his review as "a reader from St. Louis, MO." But the review appeared under the name "David K Eggers" on Amazon's Canadian site on Monday, and Mr. Eggers confirmed by e-mail that he had written it.

"I've done that one or two times before, when I like a book and the reviews on Amazon seem bizarre," Mr. Eggers said. "In this case I just tried to bring back some balance."

Michael Jackman of the Alliance, which champions "underground writing" and has been critical of contemporary writers' focus on themselves rather than the wider world, called the presumption that his group had written the anonymous reviews "the height of arrogance."

"It's interesting that they find some negative reviews and assume that the reason for it must be partisan ax-grinding and not real taste," Mr. Jackman said. "I mean, there's no accounting for taste, is there?" Whether it is arrogance, paranoia or simply common sense, positive reviews come under suspicion, too.

"Could the five-star reviews (so far all but one from NY, NY) be the work of the author's friends?" asked a one-star review by "A reader from Washington, DC" on the review page for Susan Braudy's "Family Circle," a biography of Kathy Boudin, the former member of the Weather Underground, and her family.

Reviews are not the only features writers take advantage of to improve their image on Amazon. Many have been known to list their own books as alternate recommendations for any given book, and to compile lists of favorite books with their own at the top. Not unlike authors who have manipulated newspaper best-seller lists by buying copies of their own books, one ordered books through Amazon to raise his ranking there.

Books are far from the only products subject to anonymous reviewing these days. The growth of electronic commerce has spawned a new kind of critical authority ? one's peers. On Amazon alone, customers depend on one another for advice on CD's, DVD's, garden tools and electronic equipment. On dozens of other Web sites, average citizens anonymously review restaurants, software, even teachers.

The word-of-mouth advice is widely seen as empowering to consumers who no longer have to rely on privileged critics with access to a television station or printing press to disseminate their opinions. But the reliability of the new authorities is the subject of increasing debate, at least among active Amazon users.

As the Amazon sites expand their visitors are seen as an increasingly important. Mark Moskowitz, an independent filmmaker, sent an e-mail message to about 3,000 people this week asking them to review the DVD of his film "Stone Reader," which goes on sale soon.

"If you didn't see it but heard it was good, go ahead and post anyway, (what the heck)," Mr. Moskowitz told them. "It doesn't obligate you for anything, even the truth."

Despite the widespread presumption that the reviews are stacked, both readers and writers say they affect sales, especially for new writers whose books are not widely reviewed elsewhere.

To increase the credibility of the reader reviews, Amazon has introduced a means for users to vote on the quality of each review, and a corresponding ranking of the top 1,000 reviewers. But the site's discussion boards are full of carping about how people are trying to play that system, too. Many prolific reviewers speculate that Harriet Klausner, 55, who has long reigned as No. 1, cannot possible read all the books she reviews.

In a telephone interview, Ms. Klausner, in turn, accused the No. 2 reviewer of getting people to vote for him and against her in a "desperate attempt to be No. 1."

But such concerns among reviewers pale beside those shared by a range of naturally obsessive authors.

Late last month on her radio talk show, Dr. Laura Schlessinger used a call about an anonymous letter to vent her distress over some of her Amazon reviewers, who she described as "scummy, creepy people."

The feminist author Katha Pollitt mentioned in a recent New Yorker article that she had considered anonymously posting a nasty review on her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend's Amazon page, but refrained from doing so. In an interview, however, she said she had chastised a friend whose book had no reviews on Amazon when it came out, telling her to have friends to post some. The friend followed her advice, but Ms. Pollitt was disappointed. "I'm thinking what kind of friends are these? They've only written one sentence."

The novelist A. M. Homes said the one Amazon review that had stuck in her mind was a negative one from someone who signed off "A reader from Chevy Chase," which is her hometown.

"The world of books is a very small world these days, and any time someone takes the time to share their opinion it's incredible," Ms. Homes said. "But I do want to know who that person from Chevy Chase was and what their problem with me really is."

[END OF ARTICLE]

CNN: Report: Glitch IDs anonymous Amazon reviewers

[START OF ARTICLE]

Report: Glitch IDs anonymous Amazon reviewers

Saturday, February 14, 2004 Posted: 6:57 PM EST (2357 GMT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Many sign their names. Many don't.

They're the book reviewers on Amazon.com who use such words as "masterful," "page-turner" and "tear-jerker."

But the ones who sign their critiques only as "a reader from (fill in the city)" lost their anonymity this week when their identities were revealed on Amazon.com's Canadian Web site.

Among those named were authors who posted glowing reviews of their own work, apparently to boost sales.

The glitch, reported Saturday by The New York Times, replaced pseudonyms with reviewers' real names, laying bare a culture of self-promotion and potential for revenge among authors and users of the online retailer.

Amazon spokeswoman Patricia Smith told the Times the problem, fixed after a week, was "an unfortunate error."

"We'll examine whatever happened and make sure it won't happen again," she said.

Amazon allows readers to write reviews without providing their names or other personal data, an aspect of the sites that the company says is popular. About 10 million reader reviews have been posted, a number that continues to grow.

One writer, John Rechy, confessed to writing a review of his new book, "The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens," under the pseudonym "a reader from Chicago," the Times said.

"That anybody is allowed to come in and anonymously trash a book to me is absurd," Rechy told the Times. "How to strike back? Just go in and rebut every single one of them."

The author of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," Dave Eggers, confirmed to the Times that he reviewed the first novel of friend Heidi Julavits, calling it "one of the best books of the year," after he suspected rivals had panned it anonymously.

"I've done that one or two times before, when I like a book and the reviews on Amazon seem bizarre," Eggers told the Times. "In this case I just tried to bring back some balance."

[END OF ARTICLE]

Russ Taylor: DeLonghi faking its Amazon product reviews

[START OF ARTICLE]

So I was shopping online today for an espresso machine. I noticed that DeLonghi got some really great reviews from T. Carpenter - "Espresso Addict". Regardez (click on the image below to see the actual Amazon profile for T. Carpenter):

[UPDATE: 10 June 2009 -- the reviews have been removed from Amazon]

*****************************************************************

So I clicked on T. Carpenter's profile (here). This person has written 12 Amazon product reviews covering coffee machines, toasters, dehumidifiers, etc. The catch? All 12 reviews are for DeLonghi products and all 12 reviews give the products glowing, 5 star ratings.

Then I googled "Carpenter" and "DeLonghi" and found that someone named Tara Carpenter works for the company (see below) -- as a 'communications manager'.

Ms. Carpenter really knows how to espresso herself (bada bing)...

*****************************************************************

Belkin was busted for doing this recently.

What's amazing in this case is the amateurish fashion by which DeLonghi went about posting its fake product reviews on Amazon. For example, Tara Carpenter gave two product reviews for two different DeLonghi coffee makers on the same day (13 May 2009). One of the reviews actually says "instead of buying 2 different machines for my family I bough[t] only this DeLonghi machine....". Errr... if you only purchased one, how are you reviewing two? Thus, the falsity of the product reviews is immediately apparent. I suppose it's easy to confuse yourself when you are authoring multiple fake product reviews.

There is also an M. Flora -- also nicknamed "Espresso Addict" (and also from New Jersey) who has only reviewed DeLonghi products and has only given them 5 stars. Link to that profile - here.

[UPDATE: 6 July 2009 -- the M. Flora reviews have been removed from Amazon]

You would think that anyone involved at the managerial level in a large firm such as DeLonghi would want to avoid ruining their firm's reputation by engaging in this type of false and deceptive activity. I would imagine it's a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, as well as numerous state laws.

Muppets...

[END OF ARTICLE]

The Daily Background: Exclusive: Belkin’s Development Rep is Hiring People to Write Fake Positive Amazon Reviews

[START OF ARTICLE]

Exclusive: Belkin’s Development Rep is Hiring People to Write Fake Positive Amazon Reviews

Update: Belkin’s president responds to The Daily Background’s report here.

(Update: Welcome to Slashdot, Digg, Engadget, Gizmodo readers! The latest is, I’ve heard from Belkin’s public relations department and I am expecting a formal comment to come out from them relatively soon, so stick around as this thing develops.)

I know I usually don’t write about consumer advocacy stuff, but I came across this just recently and it’s pretty beyond the pale and I couldn’t let it go without blogging about it. Here’s the scoop.

Amazon.com runs a side business called Mechanical Turk. It’s a site where people can go, register, and get paid to do little tasks that computers can’t do (like help image filtering software identify graphic search results for example). Users can do any one of thousands of tasks provided by requesters, who pay them a small amount of money in return (usually anywhere between one cent and a couple dollars per task).

I was checking out this website the other day and I made a few bucks by hand-transcribing a few videos. But then I came across this:

(Click image for full size [CIARAN: here's the image: 3203100974_f5415ff7ab_b.jpg])

That’s a request from somebody named Mike Bayard to review a product and “give [it] a 100% rating (as high as possible).” It doesn’t matter if the reviewer doesn’t own the product or has never tried it– the requester has helpfully written, “Write as if you own the product and are using it.” It even goes a step further, asking the Mechanical Turk user to “Mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” once you post yours.”

Users are paid 65 cents for every positive review they leave. There are dozens of these requests from this Mike Bayard guy on Mechanical Turk.

Sounds like somebody reallllllllly wants this item to get high ratings. So what is the product? The link is to an Amazon.com listing for a Belkin router which has consistently gotten bad reviews in the past from users who say that the product is “loaded with Bugs, goes on & off whenever it feels like, and comes at a hefty price.”

So, who is this Mike Baynard guy, and why is he willing to pay people to rate up these apparently poor quality Belkin routers? I’ll give you just one guess:

(Click image for full size [CIARAN: here's the image: 3202255933_a2a286d83e_b.jpg])

Yep, that’s right, according to his LinkedIn profile, Bayard is the Business Development Representative at Belkin International in charge of “Sales of Belkin products to major .com accounts such as Amazon.com.” In other words, this guy is paying people to post fake good reviews of his own products which, according to most people who actually use them, suck (and ironically, he’s using Amazon’s own service to screw up their own review system).

(Click image for full size [CIARAN: here's the image: 3202252435_be2c7ea726_b.jpg])

They shouldn’t get away with this. Bayard has also been paying people to post fake reviews on Buy.com and Newegg. Faking reviews is not only against Amazon.com’s Terms of Service, it’s also highly unethical and misleading. Amazon should reset its ratings for this product, and Belkin should discipline or fire this Mr Bayard, ASAP. This is one of the more scummy, totally awful advertising schemes I’ve seen. Tell Amazon and Belkin to read this blog entry and act accordingly.

Send Belkin the link to this blog entry in a quick email: sales@belkin.com

Send Amazon the link to this blog entry in a quick email here.

If you’re so inclined, you can also give this story some Digg lovins or reddit lovins.

Update: Sorry if my website was acting sluggish for you earlier. After getting some attention from the tech gurus at Gizmodo and Slashdot, my poor little virtual dedicated server just about collapsed so I had to request a power cycle which led to a couple of minutes of complete non-responsiveness. But things should now be back to normal. Good thing it worked too– I hear a certain newspaper columnist with a lot of clout in the tech world just might be mentioning this in a blog post, which could get Belkin or Amazon to respond. Stay tuned…

Update 2: Several other high profile tech blogs have picked up this story (see the comments section for a bunch of big name trackbacks). I just checked out Mr Bayard’s Mechanical Turk requests and, surprise surprise, as of 5:12PM EST they’ve all disappeared. This might be because A) people have already fulfilled all his requests and thus they have vanished, or B) because he heard about our reporting and got scared. Which is it? I honestly have no idea. We’ll see if any more information comes my way…

Update 3: I’m waiting on a reply from Belkin. See the latest on this here.

[END OF ARTICLE]

Examples of useful Amazon reviews

The below review shows what to look for in a good review. It contains precise comments which are:

Recommending another book is usually a bad sign, but in this case I know that the recommended book really is the best available, so in this case the recommendation somewhat confirms that the commenter knows the topic.

Link: http://www.amazon.com/Websters-Tagalog-English-Thesaurus-Dictionary/dp/0497837293

This dictionary is a bad joke, and it is hardly believable a PhD edited it. I
came across plenty of misprints that result in so many ghost words. For
instance p. 201
*klye for kálye "street",
*klay for kúlay "colour",
*klay-ab for kúlay-abó "ash-colour > grey";
p. 222 *lay for láyò "distance", etc.

Sometimes a term is entered three times. A good example is pakpák "wing"
p. 400 *Pakpak [unjustified capital, no accent], pakpák [correct], *pakpk
[letter <á> missing]. Opening the book at random, I couldn't find a single
page without mistakes or misprints. The only solution is to withdraw this
defective product from the market altogether, and destroy it.

I'd advise readers in search of a good Tagalog dictionary to buy Father Leo
James ENGLISH's Tagalog-English dictionary (1986, 2007), ISBN 971-08-4357-5.

(Go: homepage of Ciarán O'Riordan)

Valid XHTML 1.1! Powered by GNU Made with Emacs FSF

© Copyright 2009 Ciarán O'Riordan. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved. Distribution of modified versions of all or part of this article are permitted, provided that such works carry three things: (1) this copyright notice, (2) prominent notices stating the that it has been changed, and (3) information for how to obtain the original (such as a URL).