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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 Amazon.com 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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  • Chinese Astroturfing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Foofoobar ( 318279 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:28PM (#26498049)
    It was recently reported that the Chinese government pays 300,000 astroturfers to go online and talk positively about the Chinese and the chinese government. Basically a modern day propoganda campain (melamine and lead based toys sold separately).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:31PM (#26498095)

    My wife posted a bad review of one company on Amazon- it really wasn't even bad, it was Neutral. They missed shipping their product by Christmas when there was time. And they kept calling us...once at 11pm at night. We weren't answering and thought they would give up but the harassment continued.

    So finally she answered the phone and they offered her a bribe to remove the review. They offered to pay for the item she ordered. Sadly, she accepted.

    So apparently this sort of manipulation of reviews is not uncommon.

  • Just speculation... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeSixpack00 ( 1327135 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:34PM (#26498119)
    Although there is no way to prove any of this, 2 incidents immediately come to mind:

    1) While reviewing The Orange Box game set on Amazon and seeing all the complaints about Steam, some guy actually had the nerve to make the assertion "Steam single handedly resurrected PC gaming" - as well as other off the wall comments like bragging about how many millions they've sold. After I highlighted a few statements of his and responded to his review - and implied twice that he must work for steam - the entire review and all the responses mysteriously disappeared.

    2) Amazon's own reading device, Kindle. When it was released initially, you had people literally declaring war on anybody that said anything even remotely negative about it. Even if they complained about how certain features work, they would fall victim to endless insults and accusations of not having used the product. It was an all out witch hunt.
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:36PM (#26498143)

    Sites like Thepiratebay don't generally have people hired by the entertainment industry writing favorable reviews about, say, Snakes on a Plane. There are advantages to buying, selling, and aquiring things illegally. People don't lie -- after all, their reputations are on the line. And depending on what's being bought and sold, sometimes quite a bit more.

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

  • by HermMunster ( 972336 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:37PM (#26498161)

    As the build up of Vista 7 started it became apparent to me that this sort of thing was happening on Digg.com. Critical review of Microsoft simply disappeared as anything was just dugg way down to hide it.

    It seemed readily apparent to me that someone was artificially altering anything Microsoft or Windows on Digg.com. I noticed a change where anything negative about Microsoft and Vista were dugg down and anything positive was dugg up. It didn't matter if the negative was spot on and making valid points, it was dugg down. Anything about Microsoft was dugg up. Even if the company was doing nasty things still.

    I attributed it to: 1) either a few people had been creating multiple accounts in order to influence the vote, 2) people were being paid by Microsoft to go to digg and change the outcome, or 3) a bunch of Microsoft employees were actively seeking to alter the vote to make Vista 7 and Microsoft look better.

    I also noticed several other people commenting as they saw the same thing.

    This was like an overnight thing. One day everyone is telling it like it is about Vista and Microsoft and the next day anything anyone said that was negative was dugg way down. Anything positive was dugg way up, even if it was utterly false and few in the face of history.

    I will say that Digg.com has declined. I have had to bury a slew of articles that were purely fluff, and moreso of late. Way too many totally stupid posts, uninformative conjecture articles, and poorly thought out pieces that tend to just waste my time.

    Combined with the seemingly altered rankings of pro and negative comments regarding Microsoft and Vista I concluded that Digg.com was headed for a big decline.

    Now that I see this sort of thing occuring regarding other large company products I can only conclude that there must be something more to my observations on Digg.com

  • by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:43PM (#26498223)

    Check out the Olympics stories on slashdot and you'll see them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:52PM (#26498305)

    I am about to get a TON of free stuff. Thank you!

  • by sribe ( 304414 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:04PM (#26498405)

    Seriously, the first thing that needs to happen is a bunch of people should "review" Belkin's products with the evidence that they're faking reviews.

    I couldn't disagree more. The first thing that needs to happen is that Amazon should remove the reviews from all Belkin product listings, and put in an obvious disclaimer: "Reviews of this product have been removed because the manufacturer was caught paying individuals to post fake reviews."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:19PM (#26498543)

    Because reviews are useful if they come from a random subset of customers. To achieve that you can't have any correlation between those who write a review and those who get compensation for damage.

  • Re:Belkin are dodgy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @02:40PM (#26498729)

    The company tolerated it, so the company ought to know that such conduct will not be tolerated by consumers.

    I'll not be buying Belkin, and will ensure those who ask me what to buy will be steered away from their products.
    Those who piss off geeks forget that non-geeks ask us for advice.

  • by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:05PM (#26498957)

    Ask the person who wrote this review [inquisitr.com]

  • Re:Belkin are dodgy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@nOspAm.world3.net> on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:13PM (#26499041) Homepage Journal

    Belkin pitch themselves are a premium brand, but their products are actually the cheapest and crappyest on the market.

    Their favourite trick is to buy whatever cheap wifi chips are going that week, so you end up with 5+ revisions of the same product and have to get the right driver for that revision to make it work. Reviews of their products are totally useless because one chip might be brilliant and another rubbish. Worse still they change the VID/PID pairs so that the generic drivers from the chipset manufacturer don't work, forcing you to use their horrible ones.

  • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:14PM (#26499055) Homepage

    I will say that Digg.com has declined. I have had to bury a slew of articles that were purely fluff, and moreso of late.

    WTF... "lately"?! I stopped using Digg *over two years ago* because it had become a worthless POS full of sensationalist-attention-getting-vacuous-submissions, a partisan, pack-modding, friend-promoting, adolescent-mentality, moronic, herd-driven mouth-breathing circle jerk.

    (There was a really good critique of it on Kuro5hin, but it seems to have disappeared).

    Considering it had been hyped as the poster boy of Web 2.0 and an improvement on Slashdot, it was never that great- but I swear it declined noticably even over the few months that I used it. Though I doubt it was *ever* as good as its fanboys implied, even in the beginning.

  • Re:Oh heck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnBailey ( 1092697 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:16PM (#26499077)

    This bribery needs to be stopped in its tracks. It can get to the point at which all magazines and on line materials can be worthless as one never knows who gets paid to lie. I would expect that Belken will lose many thousands of sales due to this article. It sure makes me not wanting anything to do with their products.

    CAN?? It has been so for decades!

    I remember buying a game creation app from a game company in the early nineties which had a three page review in a magazine. Plenty of features that the reviewer raved about were not even in the app.

    Any website/magazine that has advertising or sponsorship paying the bills can and will give favourable reviews. Even feedback on sites like Amazon and forum posts are suspect, as there is quite a bit of astroturfing going on. I doubt Belkin or any of the other companies doing this will lose any sleep over a /. article though. Even though we are their customers, there are still plenty of people who will never see this site or any similar sites, and never hear of it. And if we boycotted each and every offender, there would be nobody left to buy from.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:52PM (#26499399)
    Meanwhile newegg & buy.com will have a hard time telling the good reviews from the bad (Amazon can just check the Mechanical Turk logs). So what will Happen? Reseting the scores was suggested, which is great for Belkin, they get a fresh start. This seems like a win-win for them.
  • I'd recommend a middle-ground:

    Everyone with an account that is X days old can write a review. However, those who have not purchased the product through the site are initially minimized, and the overall rating is made up only of those who have bought the product. By the rating, there's a small label that "This rating does not include reviews of users who have not bought this product from Amazon", and when you go to view one of the non-owner reviews you get a nice, bright, bold message above it that says "Amazon cannot verify that this user has actually purchased and owned this product."

    There are people who write REAL reviews on places they didn't buy the product (I write the occasional review for ePinions.com, for instance) and may have some good points. However, by adding those disclaimers as well as not including "foreign" reviews in the overall ranking (the first one people see), reliability will shoot way up.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @04:27PM (#26499689) Homepage

    For example, back while she was blogging, an ever-popular blog for writers was that of Miss Snark [blogspot.com], a pseudonym of a NYC literary agent. She talked several times about the way agents and authors try to game their reviews and ratings. For example [blogspot.com]:

    "Nonetheless I find it fascinating that buyers have cottoned on to the "five star friend" phenom. Miss Snark is as guilty as the next agent of both writing reviews (hey I DO like this book...I didn't exactly buy it though) and soliciting friends, relatives and passersby on the street to do the same. Time for a new strategy I guess....finding books from your cross town rivals and writing 1 star scathing reviews."

    It's not just getting everyone you can to rate your book well -- it's also things like "front loading" (having your family, friends, agent, dog, whoever) buy as many copies as they can to boost the sales figures and attract more attention / make potential customers less hesitant to purchase it.

    Hey, it's sales... In the words of Miss Snark [blogspot.com]:

    Adding insult to injury, you tell me the book was "warmly received by reviewers". What you mean is that Amazon has good reviews, so I know you're not playing on my side of the street.

    Here's some help: "reviewers" at Amazon are not reviewers. They're reader comments. Generally anonymous.

    In case anyone else hasn't mentioned this to you yet, Amazon reviews don't meet criteria of an objective review. (Miss Snark loves snarky reviews of course). You'd be better off to tell me your mom liked it.

  • by mollymoo ( 202721 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @04:54PM (#26499897) Journal

    eBay have improved their feedback system. Now people don't always give the maximum rating, sometimes they give a 4/5. If the seller raped their mother, wife and daughter in front of them, they might get a 3/5. Nobody really uses the bottom half of whatever rating scale you pick, so the scale needs to be at least twice as large as the graduations you want to see. Really eBay need a 1-10 scale, not because you can really discern a 10% difference in something so intangible as quality of service, but because then people could be expected to rate adequate to good from 7 to 9, which would provide some granularity. Even professional reviewers do the same - check any games site and you'll see games getting scathing reviews with a 6/10 score. It's incredibly rare for something to get less than 5/10. Movie reviews are more subjective than most reviews, so you might expect them to be more varied, yet still most stuff is still scored from 3-5/5.

    There's probably some interesting research into this phenomenon. I wouldn't be surprised if it's been condensed into a "$luminary's law" too.

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @05:31PM (#26500217) Homepage

    The Internet is where people can interact anonymously. I can write someething that you can't trace back to me personally, so no matter what I say or do, it has no effect on the rest of my life.

    I try to explain how incredibly dangerous this is to people. If you could drive a car and never, ever suffer any consequences of either personal injury or responsibility for damages you cause many people would drive recklessly and irreponsibly. Why not? Well, this is pretty much the situation on the Internet.

    Everyone's "net friend" Lori Drew is likely to get off completely. Now did she directly reach out and kill someone? No, but partly because her obnoxious behavior happened on the Internet she is likely to receive no punishment, fine, saction or anything else. Most people that get "caught" doing evil on the Internet have no one but themselves to blame, because they bragged about it, often publicly. What about the folks that can keep quiet? Nothing ever happens to them.

    So, if someone offered you $100 to stand in front of a movie theater telling people what a great movie you just saw when you hadn't seen the movie you probably wouldn't do it. However, offer someone $100 to write 10 reviews on the Internet about products they have never heard of and they often will. Because they have no personal connection with writing those reviews. Nothing at stake, so nothing to stop them.

    Lots of people grew up with the idea that things "in print" are reliable. Basically, the Internet is "in print" and no part of it can be trusted at all. Think you are getting the real story anywhere at all> Why? Is it because you trust the person that wrote it? Why would you trust them? Why do you even believe the author is really the person identified with whatever it is you are reading? If you see something supposedly written by Barak Obama on the Internet why would you believe he wrote it? Were you there when he did it? Why couldn't it be anyone (me, for instance) just using his name? Why wouldn't anyone do that? Because it is wrong?

    Anyone that really trusts a review, news article, diary, or anything else on the Internet needs to have some bad things happen to them so they wise up. Why do you think people are endlessly taken in on scams? Because they trusted something on the Internet.

  • Intimidation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @05:55PM (#26500443) Journal

    I had something similar to happen to me. I gave a software engineering book a poor review, and it was removed without explanation a month or so later. I waited 6 months and submitted a watered-down version of same review under an alias, which has remained since. This is perhaps why you rarely see any grades below "C" on Amazon reviews. Publishers apparently bully Amazon and readers.

  • Re:Obvious bias (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @06:45PM (#26500895)

    In my case; I have been using Linux for a couple years, I've used about 20 distros before settling on Ubuntu, which I currently dual boot on both of my machines.

    When I say anything about any Linux shortcomings, I am accused of "Working for Micro$oft", "never used Linux", etc.

  • by durval ( 233404 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @07:37PM (#26501315)
    ...of Pierre Bayard [wikipedia.org], author of the book "How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read".

    Not only because they both have the same family name, but because Michael clearly makes a case for Reviewing Products You Haven't Used...


  • by seebs ( 15766 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @10:00PM (#26502371) Homepage

    Company X is Belkin [seebs.net] -- Belkin had a router which would redirect an occasional page view to an ad -- and which could be reconfigured from the OUTSIDE. They tried to make this sound less bad with Usenet postings, then deleted the postings later.

  • by mellon ( 7048 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @10:46PM (#26502621) Homepage

    It's a pretty safe bet that the good reviews are going to be astroturfed to some degree. If you don't assume that, you're living in a dream world. If you look at the bad reviews, you can see what pissed people off about the product. If what they say resonates for you, don't buy it. Sometimes what they say just indicates that they don't know what they're doing. But you can be pretty sure that they weren't astroturfed.

    Although I suppose at some point manufacturers might start astroturfing the bad reviews too...

  • by HermMunster ( 972336 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @11:06PM (#26502743)

    The purpose behind the rating system of digg.com was not to spread your happiness but to give honest ratings to the content.

    Vista sucked. Vista 7 will suck the same, it is afterall just the same pig with a bit more lipstick.

    Your option 4 isn't valid. You rate down something because it is wrong, misleading or inaccurate. You rate it up because it is correct, valid, and true.

    I really believe Microsoft had people there astroturfing.

    I fix computers for a living and even to this day with all the fixes Vista still has a serious number of problems. You can't make them go away by digging down comments regarding those problems.

  • by HermMunster ( 972336 ) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @11:18PM (#26502821)

    If your comment was posted on digg.com, though true and honest, would have netted you a large number of negative diggs.

    Rating someone down like that is not the purpose of the rating system. What they should rate someone down who is lying, or making misleading statements, or spewing intentional inaccuracies. You stated your experiences and the reason you changed. You wouldn't have deserved those negative diggs but you would have received them.

  • by lee1 ( 219161 ) <lee@lee-ph i l l ips.org> on Sunday January 18, 2009 @10:15AM (#26505733) Homepage

    hasn't it? What about the stories about Microsoft?

    Gary Null, the quack health guru, has his employees writing reviews of his "books" [lee-phillips.org].

    Mark Bernstein, who sells hypertext software for the Macintosh, unsubtly suggests that he'll advertise on your blog if you mention his products, [lee-phillips.org]

If you want to put yourself on the map, publish your own map.