Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
FTC Puts Hundreds of Businesses on Notice about Fake Reviews (ftc.gov)
382 points by walterbell 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 270 comments

Generally I'd say product reviews are one of those ideas like passwords that work but don't survive introduction to the general public and mass use. The problems of authenticity are obvious, but I've also noticed that people who rely on word of mouth from their friends and colleagues are generally happier. And why wouldn't they be? A colleague tells you this e.g. monitor is perfect for your line of work so you get it and find it also good. No fuss, nothing nerve wracking, no time wasted. Compared with reading through dozens of reviews that even when authentic raise good points that are maybe entirely irrelevant to you.

I try to buy stuff in shops now. It's more expensive only if my time spent on reading reviews is free. And these days it's not even more expensive to buy in real shops anyway.

In addition, reviews are a prime example of sub-optimal communication by us. A lot of people don't write reviews for others but for themselves and thus, many of them are just unhelpful to me.

"Great restaurant, food was lovely. price is OK!" - Well, what was great about the restaurant. What is an "OK" price? Is it 5€ or 30€? You didn't probably order the entire menu, so what did you order? What did you like about your order?

>people who rely on word of mouth from their friends and colleagues are generally happier.

The problem is that the vast majority of my non-grocery items are not purchased by my friends & colleagues so word-of-mouth information isn't available. E.g. I buy stuff like hi-end camera gear, woodworking tools, audio equipment. Even more common items like books don't work because my friends don't read the same type of books I do.

Even your example of a computer monitor doesn't work in my situation. About 15 years ago, I wanted a large 30" monitor but none of my friends had that so I have to research on my own. Likewise, they also can't depend on my experience with computer monitors because a big external 30" monitor is never something they'd need because they just use the builtin laptop screen.

A lot of times word-of-mouth works great for recommending local restaurants or grocery items such as the Costco brand of paper towels and olive oil being good buys. For all other items that your social circle doesn't buy, you have to research external information sources.

That's true of course, but I guess my point is it's better if you have it. I realized this since I know a lot of illustrators, and when I first started seeing them at work I saw a lot of them have the same setup: Macbooks, EIZO monitors, Wacoms etc. At first I thought it was a cult and group think, but eventually I realized they save a lot of time on figuring out what to get. There are probably better things than what they have, but what they have works good enough and that's fine.

There's a risk to this as well, though - marketing becoming more important than quality, and difficulty for new products to make it into the market means stifling of innovation, which can lead to semi-monopolies. In the case of Eizo and Wacom it's probably fine, but Apple are a bit more dubious.

The other risk here is that you'll have '100 million' dollar company that makes a good product, and it gets bought up by one of those multi billion dollar groups designed to suck every bit of profit out of companies like it. The product and support will quickly turn to trash, but peoples momentum will allow the new parent to profit handsomely off the transaction.

Simply put, every single product a company puts out needs subjected to review, and those same products need checked on to ensure the manufacture isn't starting to skimp and change the exact same model number as time goes on.

a great example is doc martens, and then infuriatinly once we'd all jumped ship to solovair they went the same way

> In the case of Eizo and Wacom it's probably fine

I can quickly name up their primary competitors in this space, and for some reason (note: definitely anecdotal) I do see that for them, for the last ~5 years they are now being fiercely competed from both budget and professional angles.

> but Apple are a bit more dubious.

Me too. While Apple is definitely stumbling right now, unlike the previous two there is no serious competition for Apple. While Windows might be fine on a desktop that was built for-spec by specialty builders (and Linux render farms!), laptops are definitely still subpar even for the best attempts (like Acer's D series and Microsoft's Surface laptops). For iPad, I can say that Microsoft and Samsung are only the somewhat competent here, especially that stock Android is still atrocious when it comes to tablet factors, and ChromeOS still generally uses Android apps.

Listen to me, consider this an "online review".

Just buy a Dell (for the money) or Thinkpad (for longevity) laptop. I haven't had a problem installing a Debian-derived distro on either brand since 2007 or so. Wifi, external monitors, printing, sleep, everything just works.

I have heard people have trouble with bluetooth and with fingerprint readers, but I don't use them so I cannot comment.

... I hope that you have read the thread and knew that this is for those in arts and media production, right? While large companies (like Disney) do have Linux render farms, and I am satisfied with Krita and Blender, most people do use Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere and cannot switch due to network effects?

Stop trying to make no passwords happen. It won't happen

It sort of has happened for Apple users.

For all sites whenever you signup for a website a random password is generated. And then when you re-visit the site you use FaceID/TouchID to automatically pre-populate the password. At that point it really isn't a password in the traditional sense.

And for an increasing number of sites it bypasses this step entirely and just lets me use FaceID/TouchID.

Why single out apple? This is the experience for anyone who uses a modern password manager

Most people don’t and won’t change if change requires effort. In contrast by making a password manager functionality the default on Mac/iOS, Apple carries the average user into better security.

  > really isn't a password in the traditional sense.
Can it be sniffed out with XSS? Can it be sniffed out over the wire on the university Mitm'd network? Can it be stored on the server in plain text?

The user experience might have changed, but many of the security aspects have not.

I'm pretty sure that poor passwords ("password1!") and password reuse combined dwarf basically all other password-related security issues, thus getting users to use a randomly generated password on every website is a magnitude of order more secure.

On top of that, in cases of XSS or a MiTM you've probably already lost and no password alternative will help you.

Webauthn is secure even in the case of XSS and Mitm, in the sense that the attackers still cannot access the credentials without user intervention. It tool a long time to convince me, too.


True but mostly meaningless. XSS and MiTM allow attackers to take over and pretend to be the user after a legit user logs in. The attacker cannot store the credentials and use them later, but they have full access in the moment.

The only reason for (consumer) passwords you have to remember is lack of an accepted good universal id in general. Here in Sweden it's provided by the banks and has a 94% share of smartphone users, if you look east you have other bigger markets with similar stats. Most passwords already have disappeared or are disappearing, the laggard cases will catch up too, I'd love a similar one for my "work persona".

"But people will never let their on-prem servers go into an obscure, shared Cloud".

Password reset is almost as good as no passwords but with the added benefit of MFA.

It can happen, I've seen many Lightning Network applications that do account creation/login and identity verification using LN wallets/nodes/etc.

I wouldn't consider those solutions passwords in the traditional sense.

Public key authentication would be a great replacement for most passwords.

Email a login link or temp pw. Passwords gone.

What if you are logging into something on a device that doesn't have your email on it? So called magic links are an absolute nightmare.

Maybe I'm missing something. You're just replacing the "password" by asking the user to login their email. It doesn't move us any closer to a "no password" world, unless there is also a proposal on how to make email password-less?

I share accounts (legally) with friends and my wife. How are we going to log in separately?

Forward the email ;-)

Or just add an extra email to the account

Forwarding the email is not a good solution. I don’t want to be checking emails at all times just because someone wants to login somewhere.

Adding an extra email account is not always possible. The option is not provided.

Ok...so on to more inconvenient methods? Medium tried it. A real drag.

How do you login to your email?

Magic text message with an 8-digit code. ;-)

For anyone thinking about it: Please don't make it happen.

Depends on how often you’ll be logging in and out though

This is a big reason I think influencer marketing is picking up steam. Everyone knows that reviews and SEO can be gamed, with little to no consequence. If an influencer tells you something is good, at least their reputation is on the line. If they continually sell out, they kill the golden goose.

So, as dumb as it sounds, influencer reviews are higher signal to me than typical online reviews.

> at least their reputation is on the line

I don't think it is though, the sort of people who follow influencers generally aren't blessed with the greatest critical thinking skills.

What makes you say that? We are all followers (how do you think we learned from our teachers?). We all choose what sources to trust implicitly and which to question, and most of us don't use logic-based methods for making that choice.

I'm sure that wasn't just you repeating a statement you've heard before without carefully considering it.

Also most of them are willing to sell themselves out for $200 in a moment

I will read online reviews over the salesman's bs any day. So many bad experiences, I don't trust them no more.

> I try to buy stuff in shops now.

Plus, it's better for your local economy -- your friends and neighbors.

> one of those ideas like passwords that work but don't survive introduction to the general public and mass use

What do you mean? Have I missed something?

The median user's password is guessable, reused across dozens of sites, and likely to be on multiple data dump lists.

Just yesterday I had the itch to watch through Trigun.

I was floored when I realized that it was $40 on Amazon Video (streaming), but $22 if I purchase the DVD.

Amazon's costs are __LESS__ for the streaming media than for the company/people selling the physical DVD. Ridiculous doesn't even begin to properly describe that behavior.

If companies are charging premiums for services that cost them less to run, I'm damned well going to be buying in person more often.

Keep an eye out in general. Streaming is not always a deal. Physical media is quite often cheaper, and if you know how to rip, much more convenient as a result because you can get a DRM-freed copy.

Streaming does seem to be slowly getting higher quality, better codecs are probably helping, but I've still noticed there are times when a good DVD encode will still beat an "HD" stream, because even if the "HD" stream has a "higher resolution" the DVD can afford a higher enough bitrate to even compensate for its now quite-out-of-date codec. Streaming companies are still motivated to trim their stream quality as far as the customer will bear, and your fellow customers will bear quite a lot, it turns out. And if you can get a bluray it'll certainly beat any stream anyone will serve you. I haven't compared many 1080 Blurays to 4K streams, I think I've only gotten to do it twice, but the 1080 Bluray won handily both times. (I don't have a 4k bluray player.)

There are a whole lot of other factors that go into a price besides the cost of the good.

You're right, ots called greed

The only factor that would make streaming more expensive is that people are willing to pay the price.

I'm not. That was my point.

I have a small side project (a Google Docs plugin) that makes a trickle of money. One of my competitors launched one day and somehow they had 10 5-star reviews already, but the gSuite marketplace said they had only 3 users. One of those users had the same name as the author, but wrote their review as if they'd just stumbled upon it that day. Another literally had the name "Fiverr User" on their Google account next to their review.

I think this has become so common that many people assume it's a necessity of doing business. Maybe it is. Since I don't depend on my project to survive, I choose not to do these things, or even to give discounts to incentivize reviews. Many platforms don't care at all, and don't even try to combat fake reviews.

EDIT: Another thing worth mentioning: the natural review rate for these plugins is really low. Maybe half a percent of users leave any kind of review, at least in my experience.

Comment the name of their plug-in here and maybe someone here will nicely ask the FTC to check for wrongdoing here that undercuts a more honest business.

It's honestly not worth it for me. I just wish Google would either have and enforce policies for these reviews of get rid of the review feature entirely.

Maybe a silly question, but is there a special way to report fake reviews, or is it just the normal site? [0] I was semi-scammed (they delivered what was promised, but the quality was awful) by a specialized goods dealer. A few years later, I see the business has attempted to whitewash its Google reviews with recent stellar feedback from obviously-fake people (e.g., "Matthew McConaughey"). I reported them to Google, but I see the reviews are still up as of this writing.

[0] https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-...

Can't answer your question, but give advice. Get good with Amex or Chase, and buy everything with a credit card.

Anymore I don't even worry about such scammers, I just get my money back and move on.

Is it much of a hassle to get your money back or is it a single paper to file?

I call Amex, tell them my story, get money back immediately 'pending investigation', and never hear another thing.

Don't abuse it, they have top notch investigation. When you spend on a credit card, it's not your money they're stealing.

I've used it probably 5 times in 10 years, and never had a problem.

I second this. Rented a house on VRBO. Arrived to find a rundown flop house and had to find other accomodations for my family (3000 miles from home on minutes notice). VRBO has zero consumer protections or support for renters. I got taken for $2200. Since I paid with a debit card...screwed. Amex from now on.

Agreed. AMEX really goes to bat for you. The few times I have had an issue they go after the issue with tenacity. No hassle to me beyond a 2 min phone call.

I had the opposite experience: the one time I've tried to use this with Amex they were completely useless. We had a fraudulent $200 charge on our business card, and Amex ruled in the merchant's favor after being presented with an unsigned PDF "receipt" that was nothing but the text "Digital Software... $200"

I would add to the other poster - I use visa, and it is easy as well. I call, report a scam/fraud. Within 10 days the money is back on my card. I have never had an issue with this process.

As a rule, I always check the four, three, and two star reviews since they have the least propensity for a scammer to create and waste time. 1 and 5 star reviews usually are an inane mix of "They're TERRIBLE" or "FANTASTIC" with no additional information, whereas the 2,3, and 4 star reviews will normally go into specifics that warranted the stars being removed. Not only that, but they are normally much fewer in number meaning that a sufficiently popular location with real reviewers will have enough 2, 3, and 4 star reviews to give me a relatively transparent view of the good and the bad that I can read quickly. Mixed into this analysis is to scan for made points rather than worry about the star rating.

I just read the 1 and 2 star reviews looking for trends. Most of them are complaining about things the product doesn't have (but they knew that before they bought it), or specific little things they don't like about the product (but no one else cares). But there are some specific things that many people will complain about, and those are the reviews that matter, because those are the real problems with the product. If I think I can't live without the problems that many people are complaining about, I'll pass on the product.

the problem with 1 or 5 star reviews is that most "real" reviews are as useless as the fakes. They tend to be emotional responses based on shallow, immediate experiences. Thanks social media.

Thanks. About 8 years too late to save my business... Scanner911. Killed by fake reviews on Apple's App Store. RIP

In reality vast swaths of the world economy are entirely fake, supported with fake reviews, or fake analyst stock calls.

It can be argued that much of the value in the technology space is entirely fake. Look at the current insane multiples.

My point is that all this lying is supercharged due to Fed printing money. And a sizable part of that problem was caused by a near 20 year war with Afghanistan & Iraq -- completely useless wars - as most are. With the world teetering into collapse due to climate change. And most "technologists" more interested in travel to Mars.

The real technology in this world is biological. Way beyond human understanding. So go and make some silly new technology. Get some VC money to pump it up into the land of nonsense valuation. Hurry up, get yours before the whole pile falls back into the gutter.

Can you share more details about how your business was killed by fake reviews on Apple's App Store? I’m @keleftheriou on Twitter.

money is fake but "printing all that money" cushioned many of the economic side effects of the pandemic

"completely useless war", this is true for people living in Afghanistan. From the military perspective ability to test equipment, tactics, soldier's skills in a very difficult territory, without risking too many casulties is invaluable. No other major army has similar combat experience.

Yes, Afgan war costed a lot, but people do the math in the wrong way. The same troops would have to be fed and trained at home too, equipment had to be maintained, etc. so this kind of fixed maintenance and training costs should be subtracted from the overall Afghanistan campaign costs.

A couple of days ago I realised that I started treating vast amounts of followers or positive reviews as a red flag.

This first happened as I was looking at a Blackmagicdesign product with staggeringly many 5-star reviews and seemingly zero <4-star ones. Sure, some of them are sincere, but what am I supposed to think if I know that even the best product in the world is bound to have poor feedback from bad units, mismatched expectations, courier mishaps, etc.?

Those manufacturer could be innocent; outlier where somehow everyone’s satisfied. Still, it’s an illustration of the erosion of trust in a world where buying fake reviews, followers, etc. has become the norm. Platforms, sellers—pretty much everyone profits from it, just not the end customer. For a business (seller, influencer, entertainer, etc.), it looks like if you don’t do it then your competitor will.

I believe many would give this a second thought if an authority has drawn a clear line saying “that’s illegal”. (I’m sure platforms have it in their ToS, but they are rarely read and the implicit consensus is that they’re, of course, enforced when it benefits the company.) Even if it’s difficult to prosecute each case, a few precedents and the understanding of the illegality could do wonders.

Indeed -- the real meat often is in two star reviews. One star is a knee jerk reaction, competitor buying fake review and more, usually useless. But two star typically means someone thought a bit before writing it. I found many genuine problems with products reading two star review -- and more than once, I decided to do buy because the problems were acceptable. This tactic works more often than not but I am worried what happens when this last bastion fails and two stars get flooded with fake BS.

My tactic is similar: find 2–3 star reviews; find what they didn’t like; if it’s for reasons irrelevant to me—buy. Sadly, it breaks when there’s a flood of paid reviews or when factual reviews are censored.

It's gotten to the point where if you leave an honest review of a bad experience you might face a defamation lawsuit.

I wish I was joking, but: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-20/before-you-write-that...

Also leaving anything other than a 5 star review is basically criticizing the company and guaranteed to upset.

This is absolutely rubbish; an e.g. 3/5 should be the baseline for acceptable service, and 4/5 reserved for exceptional quality.

> 3/5 should be the baseline for acceptable service, and 4/5 reserved for exceptional quality

My first experience of this was in rideshare reviews, as a driver. Anything below five stars and it counts as a mark against you, for which eventually you can be deactivated. Then I started seeing this behavior copied everywhere. It really leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I agree with you on what it should mean, but unfortunately I've got no idea how to convince businesses of this.

For that reason I think it’s worth drawing a distinction between rating service by very small businesses (taxi drivers, family-run guesthouses, etc.) vs. a mass/retail product.

Rating the former tends to be 1) personal, 2) having much influence over individual’s livelihood, and 3) much more dependent on my preexisting expectations. If there was something I didn’t like, I try to not give any rating instead of rating poorly unless there was an exceptional issue.

Rating a product, especially by a bigger company, 1) does not necessarily criticise the company itself (I can still admire it while objectively having bad experience with a unit) and 2) has much less influence over company’s overall success (my review is probably a drop in the ocean), and 3) I tend to think of it as more objective than rating a service (compared to a service provided by a human, when evaluating a physical product there’re absurdly fewer variables and you’d be better informed about what you’re supposed to expect based on tech specs).

There's a whole fraud economy that has emerged in the last decade or so. Its existence has done deep harm to social trust, in my opinion. It extends far beyond just fake reviews of course; it reaches deep into the corrupt business practices and politicians/governments around the world.

How do you know reviews were more reliable before ? In pretty much all industries people were hacking reviews before especially when channels were more limited. Nobody invented fraud yesterday.

The "fraud economy" was democratized in the last decade but it has always existed. Previously you needed to be rich, powerful, and well connected to have media companies cover your business/product. Now you can buy fake engagement, reviews, upvotes, etc with a few click so everyone does it. If you don't do it you will be outcompeted by the ones who do. I've experienced this myself. I tried buying ads and writing organic posts but got little traffic on a site I wanted to promote. Then I decided to spend a few hundred dollars on fake upvotes and my ROI was easily 20x better than on ads. I had to be a bit more careful so it wasn't too obvious but I learned that these dark patterns work. I've heard of similar tactics used by unicorn startups in their early stages at much larger scale. The reviews weren't trustworthy before either, it's just more obvious now.

>>> The "fraud economy" was democratized in the last decade but it has always existed. Previously you needed to be rich, powerful, and well connected to have media companies cover your business/product. Now you can buy fake engagement, reviews, upvotes, etc with a few click so everyone does it.

Yes. And this is a pattern we are seeing all over - thank you. It's it necessarily good or bad. just more open, democratic, cheaper.

The fact that it was previously restricted to only monied interests means that it was relatively rare in the past. Yes, there were the magazines and floating 'reviewers' who everyone learned were shills for whatever company was paying them for a good review, but the bulk of the reviews were earnestly trying to live up to consumer expectations for such reviews. Once things became more 'democratic' and cheaper we saw the review version of Gresham's Law at work -- fraudulent reviews flooded out sincere ones and the system has mostly because useless for its intended purpose, it is now just another marketing channel.

It's the problem. We need a spam filter for reviews. Let's create a startup and fake it growth with fake reviews. «Fake it, until you make it.»

"It's it necessarily good or bad. just more open, democratic, cheaper"

Thats not like a sensible rule of thumb. If we 'democratise' landmines, it would be clearly bad. This is similar

I get what you mean, but honestly, fake reviews != landmines.

The system is broken and everyone needs to cheat to participate. That’s bad - not some amoral democratized system

What I find funny is when some multibillion company buys tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, but each post gets like 1 like or 1 comment. Like, hello!!!!!

But maybe it's because of FTC rules: fake followers are legally okay, but fake likes and fake comments could be considered a fake review and therefore FTC violation.

Another giveaway is accounts posting multi-sentence comments or reviews within seconds of their previous submissions. How can this get past bot checks is beyond me

For the same reason that on facebook I still get daily friend requests from very sexy women with a brand new profile, 4 friends total, none in common, in a random location in the world with 1 post linking to some dating site. It's because they just don't care. Well, either that or facebook engineers are completely incompetent.

> Well, either that or facebook engineers are completely incompetent.

Or they're making bank on dating site affiliate fees as a side hustle...

They don’t need to. The increased time you spend in the site as a consequence is enough of an upside to look the other way.

This really isn't true. Remember that FB has many, many users and (presumably) many, many scammers, so one would expect to see lots of scams.

I too get those (messages lately) friend requests, and almost always by the time I read the message the account has been deactivated (when it says FB user).

So, overall, I think they're doing a reasonably good job on this particular problem.

My experience is different. I have many times reported a profile like this. Exactly as described above, a child can see it's a scam account. And then a couple of days later got message that after review the profile doesn't violate the community standards.

really? That's very odd (not that their reporting system sucks, it definitely does), but that you need to report it.

Interesting that we have such different experiences, I wonder why that is. (remember that on FB, a 1 in a million event occurs approximately 3k times per day).

The social networks don't mind the bots if it leads to engagement. Their "anti-bot" policy is a joke. They know who the bots are. They only ban the ones that are anti-engagement (which they can also determine).

Absolutely this.

Just a couple of days back, something had been bothering me about some new-ish commenters I'd encountered on Reddit, so I did an unscientific check. I realised that about a year or so back, Reddit quietly made it so that when you create an account, they autosuggest a username of the form "Word1-Word2-Number" or "Word1Word2Number", making it hard to tell apart from automated bot/astroturf accounts.

(Try it out -- look at the profiles of any account you encounter that has the above form, and they've been created pretty much always on/after October 2020)

My conspiracy theory is that this was a growth marketing hack to muddy the obvious differences between regular people accounts and bots/spammers.

A friend was wondering where you learnt about this stuff?

One example I can remember from 10+ years ago was newegg. I don't recall ever really feeling like I got "duped" based on the many online reviews there. I think that sentiment was pretty well revered and not just my personal opinions of it. Everything was pretty well spot on from my experiences. That said, I have no idea how that would fair these days.

I'll even go so far as to say back when Amazon was getting started their reviews were a lot more reliable as well.

It should be pointed out that current fake review issues are not just on fraudulent products.

For instance Aukey has been caught by Amazon, but in my experience their products were pretty good, and they probably played the fake review game mainly due to everyone else playing it, and it became an arms race.

The cynical take Aukey was taken out because they had good products and good reputation in a high margin category that Amazon wanted for their house brand to play a bigger role in.

I would have called this conspiracy territory, but then it broke that Amazon was doing exactly that in India.


Does this indicate that by not fixing the fake reviews problem, Amazon can, whenever it wants, get rid of a troublesome competitor?

(since the competitors are sort of forced to use fake reviews)

I guess it's double bound:

- they can really fix it (e.g. by kicking every fake review mandator) and drown competiting products far below in the search results, leaving "Amazon's choice" ones at the top.

With way fewer reviews it will be harder to argue the ranking results legitimacy.

- they don't fix it, and as you say, get an excuse to kick any random brand trying to stay afloat on their platform.

Either way Amazon wins.

"Amazon's Choice" are also littered with fake reviews. WSJ did a story on this and looked at hundreds of "[AC]" listings and found majority of listings had fake reviews; many of the fake reviews being the top reviews.

It's selective enforcement, in a different context.


Thanks, interesting reading, and some from there linked topics as well

I would have called this conspiracy territory

It is a conspiracy theory. Some of them are just true.


Today i was looking for a nice gan usb c charger, surprise, an AmazonBasics charger was one of the first result and the only recognizable brand.

And the first, promoted, comment/ratings is from a guy who received the product for free in exchange for a review.


The whole advertising industry is an arms race.

Unless your product is so revolutionary or cheap you're gonna need marketing.

Newegg reviews were pretty good--they steered me away from a lot of noisy gear when building servers. That kind of feedback does not exist in the specs.

Ebay seller reviews have been fraudulent for 20 years or more (not ALL reviews, of course).

And i think you are talking about the times before NewEgg had 3rd party sellers.

Honestly, I think 3rd party sellers are half the problem. Eliminating them won't fix everything though, since there are sites where the 1st party itself is dishonest (e.g., yelp), but if you trust the site and it is all 1st party then you're in a good state for reviews, since there's little incentive for anyone to fake them.

>Honestly, I think 3rd party sellers are half the problem.

Totally agree. Right now there's a spread from anyone can review anything (yelp, Google reviews) to purchase required to review. What if only 1 out of 20 purchases, selected randomly, were allowed to place a review?

Single person review shops become easier to spot - they are suddenly ordering way more than typical. Returns might skyrocket, which is expensive for everyone involved, however there's now another signal available to spot odd patterns of behavior.

Inclusion of a restocking fee, which is obviously not popular with consumers, is another option which would help make it more expensive to fake reviews.

Manufacturers or importers/distributors would still have incentive to fake them.

There would be far fewer of them, and the consequences may not be worth it. That is why trust in a Target or Costco vetted vendor is higher than a small time seller named “eBizValue”.


I think you mean duped?

Ah yeah... typo I guess

Reviews were more "expert"-based 20 years or so again in magazines that had some editorial oversight and processes for selecting and reviewing products.

Of course, there were far fewer reviews available, companies still gamed reviewers/magazines but in different ways, and there was sometimes outright fraud around benchmarks, etc.

A huge portion of those reviews were payola, plain and simple. If a reviewer didn’t provide at least a somewhat positive review (even for complete dreck), they were often blacklisted.

Can confirm.

In an industry I was in, the trade publication gave the "product of the year" award to whoever bought the most advertisements in the magazine.

I think that's true of all trade rags, as well as any top X under/over Y pubs.

I think so too. My brilliantly satirical boss at the time, called the team to attention and said something to the effect of:

(holding up the magazine cover) "I'd like to thank you for creating X magazine's product of the year!"

>he paused for a moment<

"Which is awarded to the highest ad-spend of the magazine for the year."

Absolute comedy, and a wonderfully satirical human being.

Blacklisted how? 20 years ago consumer reports was considered a trusted source and they purchased everything they reviewed. How are you going to blacklist someone from going to the store and buying your product?

CR is the exception, and that’s why they charge their subscribers a lot of money.

The vast majority of publications fund “reviews” in different ways.

Some publications you can pay to have your product “featured” in.

In some others, companies give a reviewer who has a reputation for favorable reviews free products. The unspoken expectation is that the reviews will drive sales and that the free product (and free content) train keeps going.

And yet others have serious conflicts of interest with their supporting advertisers.

Consumer Reports buys the products they review. They can't be blacklisted if they're not relying on the manufacturer to send them a free demo/item.

(Youtube/Blog) Reviewers get blacklisted by companies by not providing a positive review about a product they were given. As they rely on scooping type style reviews, this means they not only don't get a free product to review, but they can't review it until after it's for sale instead of being able to 'preview' it for people and get more clicks that way.

Only problem is that CR then needs to wait until release day to start its review. While the corrupt get advance copies to review that get released in advance, or are embargoed until release day, but still, will get published way before CR can publish a proper review.

Honestly "don't buy stuff right after it comes out" is one of the simplest things you can do as a consumer to not buy a lot of lemons, even if you don't read Consumer Reports.

The "gotta have everything day one (or earlier!) to be cool!" is the most successful piece of meta-marketing imaginable.

A lot of reviewers try to be relevant by reviewing new things before they hit the market. That makes the manufacturer the only source of the product and the manufacturers have no reason to provide early access to people writing bad reviews and writing a review a month after everyone else just doesn't attract nearly as much attention.

Was? The 10 bucks/month I pay for consumer reports is the best money I spend on a subscription!

They’re still quite strong.

CR was notable and trusted specifically because they were the only ones in the industry who did that.

Consumer Reports was (and still is!) so trusted because it is the one publication that lacks the usual conflicts of interest that every other publication has.

The Wirecutter (now part of NY Times) is another that doesn't accept freebie products, if I recall.

They do use affiliate links, so they have incentive to want you to buy _something_, but no incentive to give any particular brand or model a biased review.

Except when they drop a product from their recommended list when they don’t want to participate in an affiliate program: https://www.xdesk.com/wirecutter-standing-desk-review-pay-to...

I still can't believe people actually click on affiliate/tracking links. I get things based on Wirecutter reviews occasionally, but I always go to the product separately so it's not tracked.

YMMV but "review site with referral links" is a category of site I very much wish to avoid.

As long as it's a generic referral program (Amazon?) in general I find it at least somewhat ok - I can see how they're getting paid, and I can assume (maybe?) they aren't getting a special kickback to sell that particular product over another one at Amazon or whatever.

When it's seller specific affiliate programs? It's all just spam basically.

I have friends who used to be in the music instrument journalism industry, and the common approach was to only review what they liked.

They got a guitar or synth that was bad? They would just tell the manufacturer they would rather not say something bad.

Of course, after a while readers started asking questions, so the answer was to review products from companies not advertising in the magazines.

It seems like this is a recipe for being hungry. The only products they reviewed were products that no one advertised in their magazine?

No, no, let me rephrase: they would give good reviews to everyone that gave them free stuff that was good.

Customers asked "why aren't there any review saying a product is bad", so they started doing that with products whose manufacturers didn't advertise there or didn't give free stuff for review. They'd borrow, or buy a few Danelectro or Behringer pedals for $30 dollars just to make a bad review and "save face" to readers.

Basically they got "token bad products" to save face.

Wow, that’s pretty good hah! (Well, in a misleading the consumer but quite clever way anyway)

A decade plus ago I worked alongside a team of writers, and they always kept alcohol in their desks. I totally understand why now.

Oh, that's amazing, haha!

You definitely need a bottle for when you get some terrible product and you know the manufacturer won't like that it won't get reviewed.

Funny enough, the situation is even worse now: with YouTube reviewers, there's no more expectation of neutrality as with professional journalists in the past. So all quality reviews are praising products.

> in magazines that had some editorial oversight

such magazines had massive conflicts of interest and could not be trusted in the first place.

before, people got reviews from friends and personal connections, not a sidebar on google maps.

People still get that. They just also get reviews from others online. Forums have been invaluable to me for finding out information about niche fields where I do not have a person familiar with that in my social circles.

It was based upon a tree of trust. And at least there was a synthetic consensus everyone agreed upon. Everyone was misled by state media, but now people switch from one tree of trust to another, depending on predictive power, which leads into conspiracy trees, because they always predict the worst outcome. A clock that screams doom all day long, will never betray you.

Youre right that I can't be sure at a macro level, but I personally found Amazon reviews more useful and accurate relative to the things I actually bought a decade ago than I do now.

I think it existed before, controlled by larger parties (media etc, professional reviewers and critics). With the rise of the internet, there was a brief period where anyone could share their opinion with you, and sellers hadnt figured it out yet. Now they mostly have and we're back where we were or worse.

Could you be more specific?

Don't forget all media especially political and world news media!

Zero trust in any of those reality TV outlets.

I mean there are tons of resources and sites now to fact check the media (whether that's the media themselves like USA Today's fact checking section to non-profits), which is ridiculous if such resources are needed to constantly check what's true or not. Thus, i've tuned out and not a fan of people who plug themselves into their media machine of choice and live/die by it. They do not think for themselves rather their idiot media machine controls them!

>They do not think for themselves rather their idiot media machine controls them!

Everyone ultimately has to rely on authorities about subjects. From parents to scientist. It's a dilemma, you can't know/research everything your self but you also shouldn't trust blindy everything you get told, so there is no final solution.

The only thing you can do is never stop questioning, falsify everything, don't deem anything above it as sacred. This way, you will collect a shifting world view from all sources.

If you don't engage with your news channels, if you don't question in a meaningful way, if you discredit whole groups of outlets just by virtue, you have surrendered.

Good. Now also fine game companies releasing broken products. Fine any company selling products with "warranty void if removed" stickers. Mass shut down fake sale websites that do not sell the product imaged. I want to see the ftc breaking down doors and deleting entire companies off the face of the earth for their illigal practices. I can dream of course.

It is staggering the extent to which we as a society tolerate flagrant lying[0] and I worry about the long reaching implications of the inevitable erosion of trust it will cause.

[0]A personal pet peeve: Dump trucks with 'not liable for broken windshields' on the back. A patently incorrect assertion in every jurisdiction I've come across, written for the express intent of coercing wronged persons out of owed compensation. Yet somehow this doesn't seem to meet the bar for criminal fraud.

thank you! i seethe every time i see that sticker. i almost (almost) want to get hit with debris when i see that, so i can stick it to them.

> Now also fine game companies releasing broken products.

Do you have any example where this happened?

Most recently, eFootball released incredibly broken. Or the last gen versions of Cyberpunk 2077 on launch. (And to some extent still now)

This really is something you just Google, it's not uncommon at all. I just Googled "broken game release" and all I saw were examples. Cyberpunk was a recent high profile one.

First result is this: https://www.goliath.com/gaming/10-games-that-were-broken-at-...

Some of my all-time favorite games in that list so I definitely do not agree that those companies should be fined. I've gotten extremely good bang for the buck considering the thousands of hours I've put in.

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey. Couldn't even get a refund because it took more than 2 hours to get the game to even play, still was broken. Company stole $60 from me and somehow never fined.

Pick any big budget game released by a AAA studio or publisher

This seems exaggerated.

Only slightly. The majority of AAA games are released with major bugs now. I now wait at least a year before buying new games.

A good friend of mine quit selling on Amazon because, as he put it "I didn't sign-up to compete with the Mafia".

Among the long list of issues he rattles off during a conversation are things like fake reviews on their products (the Mafia) as well as them paying teams to plant fake reviews on competitors products to have them tank in ranking.

The other one that was interesting was when an unknown Mafioso paid a team to click on competitors ads on Amazon. The net effect was that they consumed the daily budget by 6 AM and they went through the day without a single sale. In other words, the ROI went to zero on advertising.

Amazon denied it at first. He pressed on and provided details. After six months Amazon admitted they had determined this to be true. They refunded him some advertising money. They never restored the ranking he lost to the criminal.

Even worse, they absolutely refused to share any data with him (and presumably others). In other words, there was no way to seek legal remedies other than, potentially, filing a lawsuit against Amazon. Financial asymmetry aside, the biggest problem is that they keep very tight controls over the data. Which means you will have an almost impossible time proving anything unless you have the financial horsepower to hire an impressive team of attorneys to wage battle against an entire floor of Amazon attorneys. In other words, the little guy gets screwed, has to take it and shut up. Move on.

Fake reviews are so frustratingly common now. Hotels and restaurants are obviously buying fake reviews. Go look on basically any review site and so many reviews are from accounts with only 1-5 reviews leaving VERY generic and brief reviews. You can no longer trust Yelp, Google Reviews, or any of the other travel reviews. It sucks! There needs to be a website that forces some form of review verification. We need a new Yelp. Also, if you leave a negative review businesses will do everything they can to have it taken down. I stayed at a terrible hotel a few years back and even though my review was highly reviewed, they eventually took it down for some random reason. I no longer have any faith in online reviews on any website. Word of mouth is the only thing you can rely on.

rule of thumb - for the highest signal/noise ratio, look for reviews that give mediocre, but positive ratings - in the range of 6/10 to 8/10.

This filters out bots, fake reviews and low-effort negatives (product is ok, but shipping!)

What's left is man-made reviews that praise what is praiseworthy, and highlight the real drawbacks the products suffer from

Just sort by new/recent and disregard the nonsense ones.

Do not sort by "helpful" in any Amazon property (which is default).

Honestly fake reviews are to the point where naturally I’ll just google “$product_name Reddit” and get some more honest reviews than anything I find on Amazon. Yes there will be astroturfing, but you can also get into some more niche communities with more real feedback and discussion.

Similarly, my policy has basically become "find the relevant little subreddit or niche forum for $category" and then read/ask on that. Has worked out pretty well so far.

Especially if it's a product category that gets daily use from the people who purchase whatever it is, it seems like there's usually some passionate people around who know what they're talking about. Only issue is that you can get deep into the weeds on personal preference stuff.

I recently did this looking for an under-sink water filter. It’s usually useful, but in this case the recommended products were from a Reddit post from 2.5 years ago. More recent Amazon reviews indicated this was a good product initially, then the quality declined over time.

That’s another tricky thing to fix: products have the same page and information, but the product does change over time. And that’s hard to indicate in a review because the changes are so subtle.

> good product initially

Yes and: With Amazon's comingling, you could unknowlingly receive a knockoff vs original.

I guess if you're interested in the opinions of college students and 23 year olds.

The real trick is finding an obscure forum on your topic. That keeps off the kids and the astroturf.

Depends on the subreddit. Most of them are, as you say, filled with kids. The problem with that is if you ask for a product recommendation, they interpret that as "what's the cheapest X", which gets pretty annoying depending on what you're trying to buy. However, reddit in my experience is great with niche things with smaller subreddits, like /r/hometheater and /r/fatfire .

Random thought: before the Internet were reviews any better? I know there were/are quality reviews like Consumer Reports and such. But were there any crowdsourced reviews?

Are we worse off or are we just needing to protect people from their inability to scrutinize a new source of bad data?

People either got their reviews from quality, trusted third parties like Consumer Reports, or they got reviews from friends.

It would be pretty expensive to bribe consumer reports, and it isn't as cost effective to pay someone to give fake recommendations to their friends as it is to pay for fake recommendations on a website. Although some companies do that; it is called multi level marketing.

Pre-Internet, people got a lot of review from magazines. Consumer Reports was unique at that time for not accepting advertising on products it reviewed and it's still somewhat unique that way.

I think whether someone got advice from friends pre-Internet varied by what you were buying. Your friends couldn't tell what type of professional speakers to buy, for example unless they were musicians and then they likely had arbitrary biases.

Consumer reports kind of went down hill too. It was the solution though, I remember people paid good money for sun service.

I think a big part of the problem is that manufacturers and big stores do a thing where Best Buy gets model XAB234b, Costco gets model XAB234c, and Home Depot gets model XAB234h. They're almost identical in specs and features. This mattress has 2" of foam while one has 1.5" and another 2.5". Or one dishwasher has the controls on the top while the others have it on the front but one has a latch with a bar handle and one has a latch without a bar handle.

They're all "different" so they can't be price-compared and the models don't match exactly the model that Consumer Reports reviews.

The price discrimination has really upped its game. I find that you really have to look at a vendor / brand’s trajectory for clues on how likely you are to being ripped off.

If a brand is in financial trouble, or just got bought, then buyer beware because the costs are going to be cut and one easy way to increase profits today is reduce quality and increase price.

If a vendor is having trouble, then same thing there where they might slack off on vetting their stock and whatnot.

What I see frequently happening is the market diverges into a high quality, high priced option, and then a veritable mess of quality:price ratio options where the typical person has to rely on the quality being proportional to the price as long as the vendor is reputable and has good management (ie not in financial distress or being bled).

Yeah...they were good even after the internet became big...for a while, but the last few years have been so far downhill I don't even look to them anymore.

It was hard to compete with free online reviews.

Replace "free" with "valueless" and the prospect of competition looks brighter.

Does it? It doesn't matter if we know the reviews aren't as good, people still don't seem willing to pay for good reviews. Many companies have tried, but I haven't heard of any success stories yet.

Plenty of people are. CR is still in business. However, there is an issue with the quality of CR dropping in recent years. Why pay for a service that is getting worse?

>Random thought: before the Internet were reviews any better?

Before the internet, there were these things called "magazines". These magazines earned money by selling ads.

Advertisers sold products that were reviewed in the magazines they advertised in. And if a magazine's review was unfavorable to an advertisers product, that advertiser could reduce their ad spending.

Also, advertisers could "bribe" reviewers. Probably not with direct cash payments, but it was generally expected that a reviewer would be "gifted" the product reviewed.

So, this has always be a problem.

In many fields, though, there were the magazines that everbody knew were bought and sold by advertisers, and those that weren't. In my domain, Sound on Sound (about pro-audio and music creation tech) is in the latter category, and has been for decades. Even the advertisers know it, and seem willing to deal with the periodic "actually, the new Foo from Bar is mostly a piece of junk that you will not want to buy" because it makes the "wow, the new Baz from Bomb is totally awesome and you will use it everyday".

Yeah, but there was/is more balance when the magazine had to keep its overall readership up and quite possibly had a manufacturer’s competitive advertising as well. Advertisers could influence reviews, especially to keep from getting a super low review, but I don’t recall stupendous reviews for absolute rubbish.

> we just needing to protect people from their inability to scrutinize a new source of bad data?

I think this places more blame on the consumer than is due. Sure people need to understand how to interpret data, but a lot of this is plain fraud. Fake reviews are fraud. They make a product seem better than it is. Its sorta like false advertising, in a way.

A lot of modern times uses automated systems, eg. maybe amazon top page might require 4+ stars, etc. This would normally be a positive feedback loop (good products get in front of more people, more reviews if good means stronger basis for being in front). With fake reviews, you're disrupting the systems we have for everyone, hurting other brands (if not directly through slander campaigns) and also acting fraudulently.

Some but very limited. Zagat was one for restaurants but they sold out to Google. I used to buy their books/do reviews in exchange for free books. Certainly imperfect but I liked their results pretty well probably because their reviewers lined up pretty well with my preferences--i.e. semi-serious survey.

And many quantitative things including TV ratings involved consumer surveys/polling.

The red Zagat books were gems.

Reviews were probably even worse before because so much fewer in number and easily corrupted by financial interests.

Before the Internet? Other than advertisements, any information about a product came from word of mouth (family and friends) or from magazines like Consumer Reports. How would crowdsourced reviews even be generated or disseminated? The only way for large groups of people to talk to each other was in person.

Buying reviews has long been a thing. Snake oil sales persons were standing on markets selling their bottles of oil, they paid people to come up and "buy" a bottle and do a review in front of the crowd.

Yes, but a crowd isn't anywhere within orders of magnitude to what we see on the Internet.

I think the point is you didn't rely on reviews. Before the internet you went to the shop and you could actually touch the product, try on clothes, use sporting goods, see how this laptop feels and how fast it works. Now buying online you have to trust reviews to choose what to buy.

Before the internet you went to the shop and you could actually touch the product, try on clothes, use sporting goods, see how this laptop feels and how fast it works.

Sure, if you were going to a store. Catalogs were popular for many decades (if not a full century or more). I definitely remember my parents ordering from JCPenny and Sears catalogs: Music catalogs (near scams) let you buy music you might not hear. I've personally had catalogs for jewelry making supplies before the internet got adequate and safe enough to order from.

And you realistically just had to hope it was good enough. You probably didn't have reviews at all and just had to hope to trust the company or brand - but lets be real, you didn't always have this. Returns either meant driving to a physical store or spending some time on the phone before going to the post office to return.

I think this is bit simplistic. Before the internet, if you were going to buy something that was supposed to have objectively measurable properties, there would likely be a magazine/zine/journal that would include reviews by domain experts. Shovel? Laptop? Scalpel? Engine oil? Covered, you just bought the magazine.

The problem now is that the magazines are generally not as good at covering all the options, many of them have vanished, or have become online only equivalents.

Also, this is in part what the Whole Earth Catalog (later CoEvolution Quarterly and even later Whole Earth Review) was all about, and that's why more than a few people see it as a precursor to the web.

Before the internet, brick and mortar stores and distributors had 'buyers' who were intimately familiar with products in their particular sector. They would review products and decide how many to order if any. If you wanted to sell some consumer product you'd have to ship pre-production models to the buyers. They would test them and tear them down to see how well they were built. That imposed reasonable quality standards on manufacturers.

With the rise of Amazon that's all gone.

It is not solely Amazon. It mirrors the widening gap in income/wealth in society. Walmart and BestBuy were already selling models of appliances slightly tweaked to have inferior components at cheaper prices, imperceptible to people who were not doing deep research online.

Although the veneer of quality Amazon have to third party sellers certainly exacerbated the issue, but I think that is close to exhaustion.

This is also simplistic. I lived before the Internet, and I can't remember the number of times I tried to buy some sort of product from a specialist store that turned out not to carry a product because they instead carried those of a competitor? Was it because the one they carried was better? Sometimes, perhaps. But often it was because of a better business arrangement, and those arrangements were often informally exclusionary to competition.

With online commerce, and particularly Amazon, the testers are now us, the consumers, and the scale of testing is far wider and deeper, which seems like a good thing in some respects. However, apart from the onus now falling on us, which might or might not be a good thing, there's the problem of getting past the "top rated" items in a given domain, and that might be a really big problem.

I can also remember small local shops having assistants actually know what they were talking about and recommending what is best for you.

Aside word from mouth, certain magazines that you'd trust (or unsubscribe otherwise), the most prominent part was: the brand name.

Before moving to Taiwan (and then China) a lot of the goods were produced quite locally and not outsourced, so it was even possible to have a most so remote relationship to the factory/engineers responsible for a product.

The brand is still a thing, yet a lot of brands are owned by the same mega corporation and effectively produced/assembled in the same outsourced factory with unknown amount of suppliers.

There were a fair amount of bullshit fake testimonials on TV. Informercials being particularly brazen.

I imagine large-scale slander campaigns in the form of fake reviews was probably much more difficult, costly, and risky prior to the internet.

Or easier.

How so?

The internet makes it easier to hide your identity, automate attacks, and reach a large audience at practically no cost.

For example, if I want to influence Skippy peanut butter's review score online I can just leave fake reviews on a few dozen products on a few dozen websites with a few dozen (maybe hundred) fake accounts. Alternatively, I could make up something on social media and hope it goes viral. If I wanted to do the same in the physical world I'd have to pay for some massive marketing campaign which would trace right back to me.

I wonder if they have any intention of going after Amazon - probably not.

Amazon is listed as one of the companies receiving the notice, though as the list says that's not evidence that they've done anything wrong. Google, Pepsi, and others who are unlikely to be involved in this are there too


> Google, Pepsi, and others who are unlikely to be involved in this are there too

It's possible for big companies to "be involved" via third parties. For instance, Big Company pays Big Agency, who allocates some spend to Unscrupulous Digital Marketing Firm or Shady Digital Advertising Service.

This doesn't mean that Big Company intentionally engaged in bad behavior but on the other hand, big companies tend to work with so many third parties that "hear no evil, see no evil" and plausible deniability are built in to their operations.

Those pesky rouge project managers are always a perfect scapegoat providing plausible deniability.

> Google, Pepsi, and others who are unlikely to be involved in this are there too

Bear in mind, this is not just about "fake reviews" like people submit on Amazon. This is about "falsely claiming an endorsement by a third party; misrepresenting whether an endorser is an actual, current, or recent user; using an endorsement to make deceptive performance claims; failing to disclose an unexpected material connection with an endorser; and misrepresenting that the experience of endorsers represents consumers’ typical or ordinary experience"

I guarantee you both Google and Pepsi have committed offenses on that list, and so has nearly everyone else in modern marketing these days.

This list is.. extensive, including tech darlings (Airbnb, Beats[Apple], Epic Games, Facebook, Lyft, Netflix, PayPal, Razer, Uber, WhatsApp(FB), YouTube(google)) too "big to fail" (3M, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Dell, Google, HP, Ikea, LG, LVHM, Microsoft, Walmart, Walt Disney), fast food (Applebee's, Arby's, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Domino's, Ferrero, Hershey, Kashi, Kellogg McDonald's, Kraft Heinz, Olive Garden, Pizza the hutt, Wendy's), covid vaccines (AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer). But also duplicates (AutoZone Parts/AutoZone Stores/AutoZone/Autozone.com, Best Buy Co/BestBuy.com, Big Lots Online/Big Lots Inc, Activision Blizzard/Activision Publihsing/Blizzard Entertainment, Cargill Meat Solutions/Cargill, many others). Shout out to Moderna for not making the list, and Gap Inc (Banana Republic, Old Navy) for getting all brands in.

FWIW I find useful info in many reviews on Amazon. It's still better than everything else I've seen out there. It sucks to have to spend so much time trying to find the nuggets of honest info, but they are there.... unlike most non-Amazon sites I have had the misfortune to use in the past.

On Amazon it's easy: if it's got hundreds of reviews, it's probably mostly fake reviews.

Even for those products if you spend some time you'll find some nuggets of useful information in there.

Contrast with some furniture site I went to some months ago, where there are only like 5 reviews per product and all of them are so completely fake. They assured me the desk was "very stable" which should have tipped me off already ... Later I noticed this "brand" is all over Amazon and each of their products has hundreds of positive reviews.. they are so easy to spot on Amazon... not so much on other sellers where they rebrand the product, have ten times less product info in the description, less photos etc.

The only useful reviews on Amazon in my experience are 1-star reviews. But the absence of 1-star reviews doesn't imply a good product, so I've frankly just stopped buying stuff from Amazon that isn't clearly a name brand and not replaceable by a counterfeit. The idea of trying to buy even something as simple as a cable on Amazon based on reviews fills me with dread.

Section 230 protects Amazon from this. They could still go after Amazon if they believe Amazon is negligent in fake user review controls. On paper I think Amazon probably does a lot, but probably not enough.

This is not a rhetorical question. What more do you think they should be doing?

They should probably build the right tech to detect fake reviews and dismantle fake reviewing rings.

But this is not an opportunity of growth for Amazon. It is not a business critical area either and certainly is not perceived as meaningful threat or weakness.

More aggressive investments in this area aren’t justified because it truly doesn’t have a clear effect on the bottom line.

Reputationally, I doubt they care. Amazon has hundreds of thousands of vendors who sell up to 12 millions SKUs to hundreds of millions of customers.

It just makes sense to invest in tools and programs for the hundreds of millions of legit interactions (including reviews) that happen on their platform, than focusing too heavily on those who are not playing by the rules.

I'm not clear on whether the majority of fake reviews come from "fake review rings" that could be identified, or from what we might call "certain business practices" which could be extremely hard to detect. Do you have any sense of which one dominates?

Very simple - if they have fake reviews, they should be fined. If they can't do anything about it, they can innovate a "Customer Obsession" business model. It looks like Leadership Principles go down the drain when it affects the top line.

How do you propose to identify fake reviews? What is about a fake review that makes it fake? What is about a person writing a fake review that makes a fake reviewer?

Section 230 stopped protecting amazon from this the moment amazon started taking down reviews that called out incentives.

They are liable

It isn't really Amazon that does it though, it's the sellers on Amazon.

Although it would be interesting if there were ever fake reviews on the Amazon branded products. (AFIK there aren't)

> It isn't really Amazon that does it though, it's the sellers on Amazon.

If Amazon doesn't want the responsibility of having to make sure stuff on their website is actually legal, then maybe they shouldn't have made letting everyone sell stuff on their site their entire business model.

They want all the profits of being a middleman but without taking any of the associated responsibility. It's a hilariously crap excuse.

It benefits amazon to not do anything here, so they could be on notice for being complicit.

Amazon sent free products for reviews from customers, Amazon is the chief architect of Fake reviews

I believe this is about businesses that commission those fake reviews. Amazon doesn't commission them. They just aren't effective at removing them.

> “Advertisers will pay a price if they engage in these deceptive practices.”

> These include, but are not limited to: falsely claiming an endorsement by a third party; misrepresenting whether an endorser is an actual, current, or recent user; using an endorsement to make deceptive performance claims; failing to disclose an unexpected material connection with an endorser; and misrepresenting that the experience of endorsers represents consumers’ typical or ordinary experience.

Is the notice here you just can't advertise the fake reviews? Nothing on actually trying to curtail the fake reviews that show up on commerce sites?

Genuinely curious if commerce sites will need to start policing reviews.

You don't need to advertise to be "failing to disclose an unexpected material connection with an endorser", I think maybe they mean they could punish for the reviews themselves, but they're still talking about going after the companies with the products reviewed, not the commerce sites hosting the reviews. Which is what the the FTC does (as a drop in the ocean lately), maybe all they have statutory authority to do?

The business could run afoul of any of these guidelines if they plant the review on Amazon.

Simple: outsource it to another business to post the fake reviews to Amazon.

Maybe makes it harder to get caught (and let's face it it's already kind of hard?), doesn't make it any more legal.

Glad to see the FTC doing something. Sometimes I think the government itself gets too political so it's nice to hear about the government just providing services and protecting consumers.

VPN review sites, take note

The FTC’s FAQ about this notice makes interesting reading. They discuss a lot of edge cases:


Platforms that make a business out of scaled access to advertising services such as Facebook should be held liable by the FTC for all the knock offs and fraud there that they deliberately do nothing about.

Every single time a person submits an Intellectual Property infringement notice to one of these companies, those scumbags narrow the request down to the one "piece of content" that was flagged and allow related content that they know fully well are part of similarity clusters of images/videos/audio to go completely free.

As an artist, going to every single instance and trying to report it to those idiots to take it down is frustrating and a complete waste of my time. By the time someone gets around to it, the content has already reached 90% of lifetime possibility and makes little difference to be taken down, while a new version sprouts up for more redistribution.

Platforms all over the internet, including google, are about to experience this. With the economy going fully online everyone has an incentive to game the system, and algorithms cannot deal with millions of users doing this. They 'll have to hire human staff to do the reviewing, which does not scale.

Biggest problem for FTC is going to be attribution. Fake reviewers are a huge racket, who has figured out a number of ways to look like genuine reviewer while taking an incentive from the businesses for it actually is, a fake review.

Businesses do engage with genuine reviewers which makes it even harder to identify real from fake.

The retailers are the obvious targets here but if you've ever searched for a lawyer you end up in a strange world of impossible distributions of reviews. This decision is typically much more critical than what fidget spinner you order.

They are presumably a lot better a getting reviews they don't like taken down

You'd think so but they seem to be extorted the worst. Are the lawyer review sites run by lawyers?

if there is a way to game the system a business will try. The reason content social farms exist. You can hire a content farm to inflate your product reviews and increase sales and voila call yourself a growth hacker. My wife spends hours reading reviews before buying a product on amazon, we just bought a coffee machine and she spent hours. Who knows what review is real and what is fake. I suspect soonish there will be an AI to create fake reviews on any e-commerce platform and that platform has another AI to defend / spot the fake reviews. AI vs AI. - 2 cents

It’s why I use Argos in the UK instead of Amazon now. I was looking for an electric blanket yesterday and the top 50 items were all dodgy Alibaba type stuff with 100s of 5* reviews

Did they actually do any investigating here? Reading the letter it sounds like they are just reminding companies that could be fined, not that any of them have actually done anything

Could they select this 17-page subset of companies without some investigation?

> List of October 2021 Recipients of the FTC’s Notice of Penalty Offenses Concerning Deceptive or Unfair Conduct around Endorsements and Testimonials


This is basically every large company, and most all of them have enough brand recognition to not need fake reviews.

A lot of them allow customers to write reviews that the platforms may or may not have reason to know are fake. But good reviews are to the benefit of their bottom line so they might be incentivized to look the other way even if they have reason to believe they’re not genuine — Amazon, Apple, and Airbnb for example. It’s pretty common knowledge the reviews on those sites are frequently gamed. Any “platform” service that allows user reviews where the platform get’s a cut of the sale or where a part of their payment is contingent on a sale occurring is reasonable to include on the list I think.

I was pretty surprised to see a PE firm on the list, though.

Might be interesting to see which large company is not on this list.

I keep thinking this ends with credibility ratings weighing reviewers. Similar to how Google uses the odds that you're a real human to drive their captchas, we'd see a credit rating applied to your email account and this is used across platforms to determine if you're an established normal human or a spambot or a troll and weigh your opinion accordingly.

It's dystopian but I don't see another route out of this growing crisis of credibility online.

I would love to know about how a paid product showcase where the payment is not at all conveyed in the YouTube "review" would be viewed in light of this.

Ie someone regularly charges money to review products within an industry, is considered an expert in the subject matter - and appear to do a fine job of it, but isn't transparent about the fact that all videos are commissioned.

Ie basically charging a production fee without disclosing this in the channel itself. Thanks!

So how exactly are they going to that? Im very skeptical about their ability to detect fake reviews. It sounds like when governments all over the world trying to force people into paying the TV License Fee and saying this can be detected with "special equipment" which was usually some fake antenna, because its just not something you can detect

What about where businesses get to partner with the review site. Then the review site lists positive reviews up front and hides the negative reviews. Non-partners get the reverse treatment. The reviews may all be legit but the presentation is skewed. I'm looking at you Yelp.

Who pays attention to good reviews anyway, always read the bad reviews.

Those can be fake too

I've had a couple experiences recently where I leave a bad review on a junk "top rated" product and they contact me offering free product or sometimes even money to remove it.

For all we know Amazon and the big corporations will be protected, and small businesses will be targeted. Everything political is a scam and a racket to some degree. FTC included.

Better 25 years late then never? It's probably been a common thing since at least '96 on e-commerce platforms, I don't know why it was tolerated so long.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact