Amazon sues over fake reviews

Business, Consumer protection, News, Technology

It might seem like a website with the muscle of Amazon could easily moderate reviews the same way bloggers moderate comments. But for all of Amazon’s data-collection prowess, their attempts to track down and eliminate fake reviews look more like a game of whack-a-mole. In fact, fraudsters are proving so hard to catch that Amazon has resorted to legal action.

Suing the review mills

In April, Amazon took its first legal stab at fake reviewers, filing a lawsuit against “review mill” websites that offer to review products or companies for money. The named defendant was Jay Gentile, the operator of several review mill sites, including,,, and The suit included a number of “John Does” for other review mill sites.

Most of these review mills post four-star and five-star reviews for the client’s products, but some also offer one-star reviews for client’s competitors. In its suit, Amazon’s complaints included trademark violations, unfair competition, and deceptive acts.

The move against the sellers was widely hailed as a step toward consumer protection. But do fake reviews meet the legal definitions of trademark infringement and fraud? That part has yet to be determined. Amazon has stated that most of the sites named in the suit have been shut down. And yet a quick web search shows that and, among others of their kind, are still live.

Suing the reviewers

In a change of tactic, Amazon filed a new suit in October. This time, the company is going after the actual reviewers, account holders on the gig jobsite Amazon is suing for breach of contract because fake reviews violate the terms of use of Amazon’s website, and, the company claims, constitute unlawful interference with third-party contracts in violation of consumer protection laws in Washington State, where Amazon is headquartered.

Under these arguments, the companies that hired the reviewers would also be culpable. Amazon has not named them in this suit, but doing so would be a logical next step. Will Amazon be willing to sue its own sellers?

The biggest challenge for now may be identifying the defendants in the current case, anonymous account holders who use login names on both and, and utilize multiple accounts and IP addresses to post their reviews to Amazon. Currently, the lawsuit names over a thousand “John Does.”

Buyer beware

Fake reviews generate sales for businesses that sell through Amazon, which means that Amazon stands to benefit from them as well. So it’s refreshing to see Amazon siding with consumers to defend the integrity of its reviews. And it looks like they are not willing to let the issue drop after making a single grand gesture, acknowledging that rooting out fake reviewers will be an ongoing task.

CNN Money has shared some tips on spotting fake reviews:

  • Reviewers with blank or incomplete profiles – When you’re paid $5 to write a review, you don’t have time to build detailed profiles for all those fake accounts.
  • Extreme reviews – Clients don’t pay good money for middling reviews. One-star and five-star reviews are more likely to be fake.
  • Batched reviews – If all of the reviews for a product or company have the same time stamp, they probably have the same author.
  • Nonspecific – Reviewers who don’t say why a product is awesome might not have actually used the product. And it’s a double red flag if the reviewer includes unnecessary details about themselves instead of relevant details about the product.
  • Small words – Research has shown that liars use fewer big words.
  • Short reviews – For fake reviews to be profitable, reviewers have to write a lot of them. That’s incentive to keep them short.

Amazon alleges that its customers want to know what other customers think about its products, and that paid reviews dilute the credibility of the content on Amazon’s product pages. This is, of course, quite true, but whether legal action will be effective remains to be seen.

Image courtesy of Ken Wolter / 

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