Morrison & Foerster – John Delaney, Aaron Rubin – Amazon’s customer reviews have long been a go-to resource for consumers researching prospective purchases. Unfortunately, fake customer reviews—product critiques commissioned by merchants and manufacturers in an effort to bolster their own products’ reputations or undermine their competitors’—have been around for almost as long.
Now, in its quest to maintain the integrity of its customer reviews, Amazon is targeting an unlikely group: the fake-review writers themselves, all 1,114 of whom advertised their availability to write the phony reviews on Fiverr, a website where freelancers offer services like converting documents from one file format to another for as little as five dollars.
In its other attempts to crack down on phony product evaluations, Amazon has named as defendants the websites where phony-review writers solicit work. Unlike those defendant sites, however, which had URLs including and similar to “buyamazonreviews.com,” Fiverr, in its own terms of service, reserves the right to remove gigs that violate the terms of service of third parties, like Amazon.
This latest attempt by Amazon to quash the phony product reviews on its site is reportedly the first to go after individual reviewers. Because they probably don’t have particularly deep pockets, fake-review writers who advertise on Fiverr might seem like unlikely defendants in a suit filed by a retail giant like Amazon. But, as Computerworld’s Evan Schuman points out, what’s really at issue is how Amazon’s customers are likely to perceive the intention behind Amazon’s legal crusades.
“[W]ith Amazon, the credibility of online reviews is crucial and Amazon users would see people who write fake reviews as enemies,” Schuman writes. “Amazon sends the best possible message to its customers when it’s seen as proactively and aggressively seeking out such evildoers: ‘We believe in our products and services and know that honest reviews will be of the greatest value.’”
To uncover the real names of the fake-review writers—as opposed to naming a bunch of “John” and “Jane Does” as defendants—Amazon undertook an elaborate undercover sting operation that included actually hiring several fraudsters who had advertised their services. The fact that the company went to such great lengths to uncover the real culprits should help to boost customers’ confidence that Amazon is making a good faith effort to protect their best interests.
It may also serve as an effective deterrent to the wrongdoers.
“If it’s done enough,” Shuman opines, “you plant the seed of doubt in the mind of the criminal: ‘Is this prospective client real or an undercover Amazon investigator? And is it really worth $5 to find out the hard way?’”
On the other hand, Amazon’s efforts to eradicate online fake reviews may well turn out to be a giant game of whac-a-mole, with new wrongdoers springing up to take the place of the ones driven off the market all the time. Great conveniences often come at a price, and—in the Internet age—that price takes the form of nuisances like fake product reviews, spam, trolling and pop-up ads.