In the past, humanity has always looked up at the stars to get the bearings, and today’s world makes no exception. The cyberspace is the new firmament. There are entire galaxies of stars: millions of little, five pointed icons on top of reviews for all sorts of products and services.
We’ve all, to some extent, used reviews and little stars for guidance and some brands have made a big business out of this: think for example Trip Advisor or Amazon. It seems however, that these are not the best times for us to navigate by the stars.
An investigation on Amazon’s reviews, conducted by reporter Zachary Crockett of “The Hustle” and lasted for 2 weeks, brought to light a flourishing ‘fake review economy’ in which positive reviewing is rewarded with 100% cash-back and bonuses or ‘commissions’. According to the reporter, during a conversation with a shady seller from Guangzhou (one of the main industrial hubs in China) he was offered a total refund of the purchase as well as $10 extra in exchange for a 5-star review. The item for sale is a top-rated iPhone charger, with over 3,900 – 5-star reviews and an ‘Amazon’s Choice’ badge.
“Isn’t this illegal?” I found myself typing one Tuesday night at 1:15 AM.
I was chatting with Lien Xi, an Amazon seller from Guangzhou, China, I’d met several minutes before in a private Facebook group. She’d courted me with an offer: If I gave her phone charger a 5-star review, she would refund the purchase via PayPal and send me a $10 “commission.”
“No,” she responded, with a smiley face emoji. “You will love.”
I looked up her product on Amazon: It was one of the highest-ranked iPhone chargers, touting 3,971 5-star reviews and a trusted “Amazon’s Choice” label.
How did this happen?
This question sent me hurtling through Amazon’s massive fake-review economy — a journey that included private Facebook bazaars, thousands of fraudulent sellers from Tianjin to Tennessee, and an encounter with a morally righteous bodybuilder who is trying to deadlift a broken system.
Although fake reviewing has been an issue for Amazon since the very beginning, the recent years have seen a flooding of the market by hundreds of thousands of dubious products placed in the “golden price” range ($10-20), such as smart bracelets, wi-fi chargers, earphones etc. These items come from areas in China where production is massive. Amazon offers the perfect theater for distributing in large volumes, and fake reviewing can be helpful in boosting up the sales.
The users are not the only ones to be affected in this case. If the market will totally lose trust in the review system, there will be a consequent loss of profit for honest sellers and ultimately for Amazon itself. “People’s reviews” as stated by Amazon “are one of the most precious tool(s) we offer to our clients to be able to take informed decisions: this is why we work hard to guarantee their authenticity and effectiveness”.
The platform is officially tracking down and deleting all possible fake reviews and shutting down fraudulent accounts.