Amazon Sues Fake Product Review Websites

Ecommerce merchants know the value of favorable customer testimonials. Outcomes of a 2013 survey of 1,046 American customers by research company Dimensional Research reveal that 90 percent of customers who read online reviews claimed that positive testimonials influenced their decision to purchase.

Most merchants and customers also know that not all reviews are real. When the percentage of bogus reviews — by people who haven’t bought a product and are being paid to write positive testimonials — reaches a certain degree, the whole review function is threatened.

Amazon, the merchant that could have the most to lose from bogus testimonials, has decided to take legal actions.

The Lawsuit

Earlier this month, Amazon announced that it had filed suit in Washington state court against four sites to prevent them from soliciting and paying for fake positive product reviews. These websites sell their solutions to manufacturers and merchandise vendors, promising them glowing product reviews. Amazon contends the review websites participate in trademark violations and deceptive acts and run afoul of the state of Washington’s consumer protection laws in addition to the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. It’s seeking damages and restitution. See a PDF of the filing here.

Guaranteed 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon.

The four sites (that have different owners) are BuyAzonReviews.com, BuyAmazonReviews.com, BuyReviews.net, and BuyReviewsNow.com — the past two sites are taken down. While Amazon does have detection systems in place, the” drip-feed” delivery system advertised on these sites allows lots of the bogus testimonials to slip by.

The complaint states that,”Amazon takes the integrity of its client reviews very seriously. Amazon has developed sophisticated protocols and technologies to detect and eliminate false, misleading, and inauthentic testimonials from its site. Amazon scours its website for bogus reviews, removes them as it finds themsuspends sellers that post or buy fake reviews.”

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According to the complaint, Amazon alleges this to trick it into believing the reviews are from confirmed buyers (those who have an Amazon account and have purchased products), the owner of Purchase Azon Reviews advises sellers to not to actually send the product to the reviewer, but only send an empty box for monitoring purposes. However, Jay Gentile, the website operator, claims he’s doing nothing illegal or wrong.

Purchase Azon Reviews sells merchants positive testimonials.

Whilst in the short term Amazon may benefit from fake four and five star reviews, the less plausible the reviews are, the less clients will rely upon them. That may affect Amazon’s reputation.

The complaint states,”While small in number, these testimonials threaten to undermine the confidence that clients, and the huge majority of manufacturers and sellers, set in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand. Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to control customer testimonials and actively polices its own site to get rid of false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews. Despite considerable efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is growing outside of Amazon to provide inauthentic reviews.”

Earlier this season, Yelp, a firm with a business model based entirely on customer testimonials, sued YelpDirector.com and Revleap.me, alleging that the websites help companies to post positive reviews of their operations and curb bad reviews. YelpDirector has been taken down. It appears that only the filing of a lawsuit can make reviews websites go away, presumably because larger companies have deeper pockets. If Amazon were to prevail in court it would get triple damages and attorney fees.

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Which Are the Regulatory Agencies?

These sites are so evident in their tactics — frequently advertising for positive review authors on Craigslist and Freelance.com — that imitation reviews would appear to fall under the purview of the Federal Trade Commission. In 2014, the FTC did start an investigation to Yelp after getting 2,046 complaints regarding the firm beginning in 2008, largely from small business owners claiming unfair or deceptive reviews. However the agency chose to take no action. Going after fake review websites allows Yelp to demonstrate it is attempting to restrict phony reviews. We have addressed negative Yelp testimonials here before, at”Can Lawsuits Remedy Bad Online Reviews? .

Moreover, says, if not the national government, are breaking. Two decades ago, the New York Attorney General compelled 19 firms to pay $350,000 in penalties for producing online testimonials.