Reports: Fake reviews are a growing problem on Amazon, Google

As reviews have grown in importance, so have efforts to game the system. The problem is growing on both Google Maps and Amazon, according to third-party analysis and reporting.

A report yesterday in The Washington Post found that the buying of fake reviews by merchants hoping to boost sales of their products is a widespread problem on Amazon. According to the report:

[F]or some popular product categories, such as Bluetooth headphones and speakers, the vast majority of reviews appear to violate Amazon’s prohibition on paid reviews . . .

Many of these fraudulent reviews originate on Facebook, where sellers seek shoppers on dozens of networks, including Amazon Review Club and Amazon Reviewers Group, to give glowing feedback in exchange for money or other compensation. The practice artificially inflates the ranking of thousands of products, experts say, misleading consumers.

The Post says “many of these fraudulent reviews originate on Facebook.” Accordingly, fake review solicitation becomes another variation on the “fake news” problem for the company.

The Post’s investigation also found that in some categories (e.g., bluetooth headphones) on Amazon, fake reviews comprised at least half of all reviews. Positive reviews influence consumer buying and visibility on the site.

Reviews are an explicit ranking signal at Google for local results (i.e., “prominence”). However, the company is substantially relying on volunteer contributors to fight map and local review spam.

Among those trusted volunteers are Joy Hawkins and Mike Blumenthal, who contend that the review spam problem — often driven by services that pay people to write fake reviews, as on Amazon — is only getting worse. Yelp is cited in the same piece by CNBC, as the site that does the best job of controlling and cracking down on review spam.

It’s well-documented that consumers rely heavily on online reviews in making buying decisions. The majority tend to trust them unless there are no critical reviews present.

Amazon and Google have periodically made corporate-level efforts to crack down on the problem. For example, Amazon filed a lawsuit in 2015 against a review solicitation company. And Google has taken steps from time to time to reduce local and review spam. Yelp has been more consistent, however, adding a “consumer alert” to business profiles when its review guidelines have been violated.

Unless and until there’s consistent enforcement (e.g., lawsuits, penalties) by major sites against the companies and in the places were fake reviews are solicited, the problem will only continue to intensify.

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