Amazon recently filed a lawsuit against the administrators of over 10,000 groups on Facebook. These groups, according to Amazon, violate its terms of service by giving away products for free in exchange for a fake five-star review. The groups have thousands of members, all colluding together to inflate product rankings through fake reviews.
According to a statement by Amazon, they will use information discovered in this legal action to identify bad actors and remove fake reviews commissioned by these fraudsters that haven’t already been detected by Amazon’s advanced technology, expert investigators, and continuous monitoring.
“Our teams stop millions of suspicious reviews before they’re ever seen by customers, and this lawsuit goes a step further to uncover perpetrators operating on social media,” said Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s vice president of Selling Partner Services.
The problem of fake reviews on Amazon is not new. In 2021, Amazon filed a similar lawsuit against two platforms – AppSally and Rebatest. These platforms allow third party sellers to list their products which need fake reviews. Users can sign up, browse products, purchase them and once they upload the review, they are refunded the entire cost of the product. Such manipulation of reviews is strictly against Amazon’s terms of service; sellers are not allowed to offer promotions in exchange for reviews.
The groups flagged by Amazon in their lawsuit are just a drop in the ocean; brokering fake reviews on Facebook is a booming business. A study conducted by Rajvardhan Oak, a cyber security researcher and graduate student at the University of California, Davis shows that there are groups with hundreds of thousands of members that deal with fake reviews. Third party sellers contract intermediaries known as agents, who are responsible for procuring fake reviews from buyers. The study found that the reviews ecosystem was extremely sophisticated, with group admins using bonus and incentive structures to incentivize agents into seeking out more buyers.
Oak’s research also found that sellers recommend certain evasion tactics so that the fake reviews will not be detected by Amazon. While fake reviews have been around for decades, this study is the first (and the only one that we could find) that has actually investigated the key players in depth, and identified these evasion tactics. The study outlines several evasion tactics such as writing reviews which are long, including photos and videos, and interacting with other reviews so that Amazon does not suspect a buyer of writing fake reviews.
“Detecting these fake reviews is really a hard problem. What makes it challenging is that these are fake reviews written by real people, who will often have legitimate purchases and reviews as well,” says Oak. Amazon takes the fake review problem seriously; they have deleted reviews, terminated relationships with sellers and banned users off their platform for engaging in review fraud. These measures are, however, not effective. Oak’s research studied review trends for fraudulent products over a six-week period, and found that if reviews are removed, sellers immediately onboard new fake reviews. He also found that Amazon was able to remove only 20 products (out of over 2,000) in the six-week period.
The lawsuit and Oak’s study shows that we can no longer trust reviews. Platforms must do a better job of moderating reviews so that only genuine ones get through (which definitely is a challenging task). Till then, take all reviews with a grain of salt!
(The above story first appeared on Onhike on Jul 30, 2022 03:30 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website onhike.com).