A screenshot of a Facebook group where Amazon reviews are bought and sold. Membership of this group has a workforce of more than 82,000 from December 13, 2018. While prohibited by both Facebook and Amazon, a victim, tells Fox News that the current safeguards on both companies have done very little to their bottom line. (Facebook/Fox News)
First, we had a fake news, now is the fake reviews.
A Fox News investigation has revealed that Facebook is a breeding ground for groups where reviews for products on Amazon, among other online platforms, are bought and sold. And small businesses compete in the online marketplace may already be suffering as a result of a lack of controls, or a lack of efficiency, on behalf of two of the most valuable brands in the world.
Reviews are of crucial importance for companies that are active in the online marketplaces such as Amazon, not only because of the impact of a 1-star review, but because sellers and products with the highest number of reviews usually appear higher in the search results.
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Beyond the fact that reviews are of crucial importance for the existence of the company, the practice of the compensation of someone in exchange for a customer review is something that is in conflict with both Amazon and Facebook policy. It would also be at odds with the Federal Trade Commission.
That is not stopped, the practice of bloom on Facebook, Fox News has found. Groups such as “Amazon review club” can be connected with the click of a button, with no apparent background check.
Members of groups such as “Amazon review of the club” is not only the buying and selling of positive reviews. They target sellers with negative reviews. (Facebook/Fox News)
Fox started with the tracking of that group, and others like him, just for the Black Friday shopping rush in the beginning of November. Since then, the membership has grown by thousands, who on more than 82,000 members as of this writing. That group was founded in 2016, and there are plenty of others like it where reviews have been requested for everything from Google Maps to Yelp.
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In the course of a few weeks, Fox News saw that the members of these groups made an offer to the hundreds of reviews at a time, promising commissions in exchange for praise and 1-star reviews that seemed destined for a number of unfortunate online competitor.
Some of the Facebook accounts associated with these posts profile pictures that can be traced back to Hollywood actresses through the Google images search. One person was cheeky enough to use the name “John Conner,” the name of a character in the film “Terminator 2: Judgement Day’, complete with a profile photo shows a scene from the film.
A Facebook user by the name of “John Conner,” a member of the “Amazon review club” group, looks a lot like the character “John Connor” from the film Terminator 2: Judgement Day. (Facebook/Fox News)
Fox News was able to connect with a U.S.-based company that seems to have suffered as a direct result of the “Amazon review club” group, and they claim that Amazon is not much help since she reported the problem.
The seller, who has been working on Amazon for a year and requested anonymity out of fear for retaliation of the competitors, filed several complaints with Amazon after noticing that their product had been, came down in the search results. A new product appeared on the market in the summer, and it was fast reviews – many of them written in bad English and with little or no relevant information.
After poking around Facebook, the seller discovered that competing product advertised on “Amazon review of the club,” and to this day they say: “the attack continues.”
“Previously, we had always been able to re-invent our marketing to keep up with the top edge,” the seller explained via e-mail. “But the fake reviews are more intensive, resulting in significant losses for our company,” she added.
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It was more than a full month before the holiday shopping rush that the U.S.-based seller contacted Amazon. They provided screenshots of their competitor’s product being advertised on the “Amazon review club” Facebook page and even a link to a negative review written about their product by a man who seems to have died.
“Previously, we had always been able to re-invent our marketing to keep up with the top edge. But the fake reviews are more intensive, resulting in significant losses for our business.”
— Anonymous AMERICAN Amazon seller is the target of a competitor
“Amazon has not responded to my report, that was submitted about 2 months ago. Nothing,” the seller told Fox. What’s more, they say: “since the submission of the report to Amazon in mid-October, our competitor’s] product has gained 100 reviews and our turnover continues to decrease.”
Fox News has been given documentation and evidence of a number of these “fake” reviews, but we can’t reveal the reviews themselves, in the interest of the protection of the seller whose business has been affected. That reviews remain on Amazon as of this writing.
In the past, Amazon has claimed that less than 1% of the reviews on the platform are fake, but with at least 500 million reviews on the site, that fake reviews may still number in the millions of that statistic. One percent of the 500 million, a low estimate of the total number of reviews on Amazon, 5 million reviews, after all.
Amazon is now using the “machine learning and automated systems” to fight the problem of non-authentic reviews, according to a representative who spoke on Fox News. They also pointed out that the company has filed lawsuits against more than 1,000 suspects over the matter.
Amazon was asked about the case of the seller, who spoke with Fox News, and that has endured the holiday shopping season without a response from Amazon, but did not respond in time for publication of this article.
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The seller told Fox News that they have not reported the “Amazon review club” group on Facebook, and suggested they “do not know where to start.”
A Facebook spokesman told Fox News that if a user reports a group participation in this kind of activities, that the company will quickly take measures to remove it. Indeed, one of the groups brought to their attention by Fox News almost immediately.
Fox News along this screenshot of another Amazon review exchange group on Facebook representatives. The company, the group closed almost immediately. (Facebook/Fox News)
However, that representative would not say whether Facebook employees actively monitor the platform for these types of groups, and which stated that the majority of the activity on the platform are positive.
Fox News was able to do many of these groups on Facebook by using simple search terms like “Amazon reviews.” According to one expert, it would probably not be difficult for Facebook to do the same.
“A minimal effort can go a long way to go,” says Tommy Noonan, the founder of ReviewMeta.com a website that monitors Amazon reviews and offers in which one suspects that this kind of activity is taking place. Given Facebook’s history of dealing with incorrect information on her platform, Noonan says, “I think [Facebook] is doing Amazon a favor by doing something.”
Mom and Pop sellers, like the one who spoke with Fox News, are obviously the biggest victims in all this, Noonan says. And while his research confirms Amazon is taking visible steps to combat this, albeit a persistent problem, he says that the consumer should not lose hope.
“In my experience, it is a very nuanced and difficult problem to resolve,” Noonan says. “You can’t just delete every review you think is suspicious, because you wind up removing genuine reviews. Thus, it is more difficult than people make it out to be, and I hope for the platform and the consumer as a whole.”