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Belkin's Amazon Rep Paying For Fake Online Reviews 369

remove office writes "I recently discovered that Belkin's lead online sales rep, Michael Bayard, has been secretly paying internet users to review his company's products favorably on and other websites like Newegg, whether or not they've ever used the devices. Bayard instructed the people he was paying to 'Write as if you own the product and are using it... Mark any other negative reviews as "not helpful" once you post yours.' Ironically, he was using Amazon's own Mechanical Turk service to hire his fraudsters. Did he honestly think he wouldn't get caught? Are Slashdotters aware of other examples of other such blatant astroturfing on behalf of a large tech company like Belkin?"
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Belkin's Amazon Rep Paying For Fake Online Reviews

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  • by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) * <> on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:24PM (#26498009) Homepage Journal
    I'm more surprised that there aren't more companies caught doing this. Its like being surprised that a professional was using hGH or 'roids.
  • by blang ( 450736 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:29PM (#26498065)

    Well, I don't have much of their stuff but I think what I have is ok stuff. Probably just a matter of a grossly overreaching marketing department. Some idiot fatass willing to eat babies to get his bonus.

  • Well Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by speedlaw ( 878924 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:31PM (#26498085) Homepage
    Anyone with a brain who has checked out any product online, be it cars, computers or anything, finds a user group or ten with reviews. Some reviewers have used the product. Some reviewers have not. There is always "this is the bestest thing in the whole world" review. And there is the "this is the largest POS known" review. You toss the lovefest, and toss the POS review. Trust the middle. If all the reviewers seem happy, then it's probably good. If they all hate, then not so much. You are your own editor.
  • Re:Micro$oft!!! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:35PM (#26498135)

    Yes, the above is obviously a troll. Microsoft doesn't need to pay people to write positive reviews, they just get their staff to shill on their behalf on sites like Slashdot.

  • Re:Jeez (Score:5, Insightful)

    by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:39PM (#26498175)

    [Belkin's] signal strength was way better than other adapters

    Reported signal strength?

  • Astroturfing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:40PM (#26498179)

    Astroturfing is an extremely harmful practice to companies in the long run. I remember a couple of particular travel companies on a site I frequent which did this. The companies themselves had a pretty decent reputation, but a few members were just a little bit too enthusiastic about recommending them, and were outed after a couple of months. Any goodwill the company had instantly collapsed, and any time a new traveler asked for advice relating to these companies, they were told to avoid them because of their marketing practices.

    Somewhat strangely, it's actually the successful astroturfing campaigns that do the most damage in the long run. There's thousands of obvious attempts each year which immediately get spotted, and everyone nearly immediately forgets about them. But the few times it flies under the radar and is "trusted", the loss of that trust upon discovery is total and final, and it'll take years for the company to recover (if they ever do).

  • Re:Well Duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:47PM (#26498265)

    That's not how I roll...

    I look for the worse review possible, extract why the review thought it was bad and then judge whether I find that particular thing worthy of caring about.

    However I must admit this doesn't always work, for example I was reviewing headphones and there was an elitist audio expert which marked them down. I bought them anyway and they're really good, I really can't understand why he'd marked them down for the quality.

  • Re:What a tard (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Grim Reefer2 ( 1195989 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:48PM (#26498277)

    Criminals get dumber and dumber.

    If he was not such a retard he'd just sign up with bogus accounts and write the reviews himself, from a public library terminal.

    Actually I think they are getting smarter and smarter.

    It's just the ones that don't learn that get caught.

  • by danknight ( 570145 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:17PM (#26498513)

    Attention Microsoft and Belkin, I currently have 3 (count 'em! ) Three MOD POINTS, and I am not afraid to use them to your favor for the right price !

  • Re:Astroturfing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cyber-vandal ( 148830 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:19PM (#26498537) Homepage

    Yep Microsoft must be kicking themselves now ;-)

    (Sorry couldn't resist :-) )

  • by jcnnghm ( 538570 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:21PM (#26498559)

    That's not a bribe, it's called customer service. The customer was dissatisfied, so the company took measures to rectify the situation. I would be happy to deal with a seller that acted in such a way.

  • by arizonagroovejet ( 874489 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:22PM (#26498571)
    There are a lot of reviews on Amazon and other retail sites written by people who clearly do not own the product. A lot of reviews are written by people who don't understand the concept of a review. You can find reviews for things which aren't even available to buy yet but Amazon have created a product page for. Seems to me there's a very easy to get rid of reviews people are being paid to write or are just idiots - sites should only allow people to post reviews for products which they have actually bought from that site. It would be easy enough to implement, just check against the would be reviewer's order history. Sure there would be a lot less reviews, but the ones that do get posted will worth something. Quality, not quantity.
  • Typical (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:25PM (#26498607)

    I've built more than a few systems for myself and family. Most of the time I have not had a problem from Newegg. The one time I did have a problem, and it was Negegg's fault, I rated the product as superior and Newegg's service below par. My review never saw the a pixel on the interwebs.

    To be fair, it's their website and their bandwidth, but if you take a review or ever a bunch of reviews as the gold standard then you are eventually going to get burned. This should be common sense but maybe not.

  • Re:'can get to' ?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zmollusc ( 763634 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:28PM (#26498631)

    What? You thought magazines were objective and impartial?

  • by rhizome ( 115711 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:41PM (#26498739) Homepage Journal

    There's an irony that illegal business is the most honest kind.

    As the old saying goes, there's no honor among thieves. Usually this is interpreted negatively but you illustrate another way to approach it.

  • by mpgalvin ( 207975 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:03PM (#26498939)

    Why would they do that? Amazon themselves don't really suffer from false positives. (and remember, years ago they accidentally disclosed the editorial reviews' authors: 50% shills or publishers.)

    Positive reviews move product. If anything, they have a real incentive to screen or discourage negative reviews.

  • by imikedaman ( 1268650 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:27PM (#26499175)
    You'd just get companies either purchasing the items from themselves using dummy accounts, or you'd have them paying people to buy the item before reviewing.
  • by orielbean ( 936271 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:40PM (#26499283)
    Wait, you mean the same AMAZON who is making money from Belkin's products being sold on their site? Good luck with that. The counter-astroturf would be more useful and more likely.
  • by arminw ( 717974 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:44PM (#26499313)

    ....Amazon themselves don't really suffer from false positives....

    That could not possibly be true IF Amazon is an honest business. Any deception, when it get known, will in the long run harm the one who deceives people. Amazon could stop this or at least slow it down to a trickle by only letting their customers who have bought that item write a review on that one and only once. It would have prevented the incident mentioned in the article and boost Amazon's reputation.

  • Re:Doctors (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:45PM (#26499325) Journal

    Except huge swaths of doctors are *not* in good health at all. In the "Physician, Heal Thyself", department, they get tricked by HMO politics and overwork, sometimes trashing their diet, too fatigued to exercise, and as mentioned elsewhere, possibly even living on borrowed time just trying to keep going. One of my doctors was in this category.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:50PM (#26499367)

    The company took measures to rectify the situation on the condition that what happened was covered up. If they were interested in integrity then they might ask that the review get edited to include their actions to correct the situation.

    It seems to me that the people who are so happy with how the company acted like free stuff more than their integrity.

  • by emandres ( 857332 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:52PM (#26499395)

    This company should be avoided where possible.

    I couldn't agree with the parent more. I bought a cheap wireless router from them when I moved into my current apartment, and about 3 months later it just stopped working altogether. I called tech support on it and got someone from India who didn't have the slightest clue what I was saying and didn't understand the fact that I was using vista and not XP. To say I had a frustrating experience with them is a gross understatement. The end result of this story: I will never buy anything from Belkin ever again. Seriously, what kind of company has to turn to fake user reviews to get people to buy their product. They might as well be selling it on TV and offering a free sham-wow with it or something. Although, I guess I shouldn't have expected more from a company who charges $30 dollars for a 10 foot cat5 cable or $50 for an fm transmitter that is white, so that it can work with an iPod.

  • by Haydon Jurai ( 906143 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @08:17PM (#26501639)
    Is this really news?? Most positive product review are sappy BS about the product being the best thing since sliced bread or the internet, with very little insightful commentary. That leads me to believe they're always fake. I consider product reviews a form of advertising. And since most consumers, who are already easily influenced (such as by TV commercials and other mass advertising) won't bother looking for articles about fake reviews, the fake reviews will do their job, and convince people to buy the product. If you really want to find out about a product, you can dig through all the BS to find a review with insightful commentary (and then do some cross reference to verify the claims), but that can be difficult. I find it more helpful to read all the negative reviews of a seller or product. If the negative reviews don't paint a horrible picture, you can use them to weigh the product's or service's faults against its claimed benefits.
  • Not surprised... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by forrie ( 695122 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @10:22PM (#26502465)
    I'm not terribly surprised. I've run across reviews that seemed too thorough (and condescending) to be something composed by your average consumer. I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt Belkin is the only one that's paying people to pimp up their reviews.
  • USB TV adapter (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GWBasic ( 900357 ) <> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @03:27AM (#26504031) Homepage

    I recently bought a USB TV Adapter for a "premium" computer from the "premium" computer store in the mall. The "premium" computer's web site had a 5-star rating.

    The first device stopped working after 3 hours. I exchanged the device; but now the included software is very unreliable for scheduled recordings. (It works fine for live TV; my computer significantly exceeds the requirements.)

    I don't understand how something that's so unreliable can get a 5-star rating.

  • by Jager Dave ( 1238106 ) <jagerdude69&yahoo,com> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @03:31AM (#26504045)
    I honestly don't see why someone needs to pay Belkin to promote their gear positively. It's good gear. Good quality, decent performance. Belkin's biggest downfall is that it is grossly overpriced compared to it's competitors. An 8' Cat6 cable just should not cost $25, when I could buy a length of cable, some ends, and a crimping tool, for about $20 (ok maybe not THAT cheap, but you get my drift...) Of course, now we see it's because Belkin's spending too much money having people promote itself on Amazon (and who knows how many other websites - there are a large number of positively-reviewed products on NewEgg and such, that I have to wonder what the people were thinking....)
  • by antispam_ben ( 591349 ) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @03:33AM (#26504057) Journal

    Can anyone tell me if these reviews are real or astroturfed? Of 271 reviews, almost half are five-star: []

  • Re:Oh heck (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JohnBailey ( 1092697 ) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @04:02AM (#26504195)

    And sadly, the important words are "Late lamented". Not each and every single review source is crooked, but there are enough to not trust them any more. It's a sad reflection on the good reviewers who do the job properly, but the various marketing departments have way too much power and not enough scruples.

    A review site or magazine has to have advertising to pay for everything from bandwidth to staff wages. They have to have review samples of products to review, so they have to keep the manufacturers happy by giving good or at least neutral reviews.

    A lone blogger might be able to be honest, but for every one who is, there are dozens who are paid to write good reviews. Remember the incident just before Vista coming out? where several bloggers got top of the range laptops with copies of Vista to use for reviews, and no specific instructions as to what to do with them? Why did Microsoft not get crucified for pulling a stunt like that?

    Even forums are not to be fully trusted. How many times has there been a discussion about Vista, and someone has posted how wonderful it is on hardware that is below the spec of the Vista capable computers that actually spawned a class action? Or Apple stories where a bunch of the faithful have screamed down anybody who dares to be critical of the precious? Apple is the only manufacturer who has volunteer astroturfers.

    And games are even worse. I can understand why. They have a huge development cost in relation to a short shelf life, so the publishers need to get them out as quickly as possible. They have to either be controversial like GTA and others, or get good reviews.

    I'd love to be able to trust reviews, and it saddens me that so many are corrupted or coerced into writing what is basically PR copy. I know there are some that do give honest accounts of what they are testing, but it is getting increasingly hard to find them.

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