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Monday, February 17, 2020

Amazon can't fix fake reviews

It's astonishing to me that Amazon STILL can't figure out how to fix fake reviews, so instead of doing the obvious and preventing people who have not bought a product from reviewing it on their site, they are trying to weight the star rating instead:
Fake reviews still exist on Amazon, but the dominant online shopping platform recently made a big change that might help drown them out instead.

The online retailer quietly introduced one-tap ratings for product reviews late last year, making it possible for shoppers to provide a star rating without needing to write a review to accompany it.

The change has already led to an increase in overall customer feedback, a competitive advantage that Amazon has over many of its biggest brick-and-mortar competitors. And new products are generating feedback on Amazon sooner, the company says, which could be a boon for new brands and sellers. But some industry observers believe another indirect impact of the change will be a significant increase in authentic ratings that will make it harder for fake reviews to break through the noise.

“As the number of ratings increase, customers can see a larger set and thus a more accurate rating,” said Patrick Miller, co-founder of Flywheel Digital, an agency that helps large consumer brands sell on Amazon. “For brands, this means the black-hat review clubs and sellers will have less impact, as fake reviews as a percentage of legit reviews should decrease.”

The new rating feature arrives at a time in which fake product reviews have been attracting more attention from the media, regulators, and Amazon itself as more consumers conduct more of their shopping online. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission brought its first case involving paid fake reviews, settling a complaint against an Amazon seller who purchased fake five-star reviews for a weight-loss supplement. Amazon has also filed at least five lawsuits related to fake-review schemes over the last five years. On one end, fake positive reviews can simply lead to the purchase of poor-quality merchandise and distrust among shoppers. But in certain categories, a flattering review of a bad or faulty product can be flat-out dangerous.

The new one-tap feature asks customers to select from one to five stars for a product. It’s only available to customers who have actually purchased the item from Amazon — “verified” buyers. That barrier alone creates one hurdle that will make the new rating system harder to game, since Amazon does allow written reviews from non-verified buyers. And as the new rating feature attracts more and more feedback from verified buyers, it’ll get more expensive for schemers to buy enough phony reviews to try to break through the noise.

“The more customers who purchased the product [who] provide feedback, the more accurately the star rating reflects the experience of all purchasers,” is how Amazon spokesperson Angie Newman put it, without directly referencing fake reviews.

Amazon does not provide many specifics about how a product’s overall star rating is calculated, other than stating that it is not a simple average but instead uses “machine-learned models” that take into account factors such as how recent the rating or review is and whether it was a verified purchase or not. It’s not clear whether one-tap ratings will carry as much weight in these models as written reviews.
It's better than nothing, but it's downright embarrassing that a company as heavily invested in AI and machine learning, and as dependent upon an algorithm, as Amazon is can't figure out how to write an algorithm that can easily distinguish an obvious fake review from a legitimate one.

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40 Comments:

Blogger Shane Bradman February 17, 2020 5:15 AM  

Restricting reviews to people who have purchased it will cut out a few legitimate reviews and the vast majority of fake reviews. Why do they care so much about people who don't have a verified purchase reviewing things? Perhaps they are abusing the system themselves as a method of deplatforming.

Blogger Gregory the Tall February 17, 2020 5:24 AM  

What legal recourse does Amazon offer to authors or publishing houses whose sales or potential sales are reduced by fake and slanderous reviews?
Btw: Google also does not remove nasty reviews even when flagged several times in "mybusiness".

Blogger Weak February 17, 2020 5:54 AM  

Can't figure out how to write that algorithm, or chooses not to?

Blogger Don't Call Me Len February 17, 2020 6:01 AM  

As the number of ratings increase, customers can see a larger set and thus a more accurate rating

The idea that mere volume = more gooder is a very Amazonian concept.

It (the one click rating) is only available to customers who have actually purchased the item from Amazon

Do they remove the rating if the item is returned? A devoted review faking crew could probably manage to keep at without too much of an economic burden if not. It's not like we haven't seen many orgs devoted to propagating propaganda irrespective of the cost anyhow. It's one of the primary outcomes, if not goals, of converging companies.


Blogger Akulkis February 17, 2020 6:03 AM  

Just like Yelp!, Google keeps the slanderous reviews around as a meeans for running an extortion racket (just like a mob "protection" racket) to sell advertising contracts.

Blogger Brett baker February 17, 2020 6:09 AM  

Maybe SJWs don't mind fake reviews for certain products, but not others?

Blogger nswhorse February 17, 2020 6:29 AM  

Why on earth would you allow someone who hasn't purchased a product to post a review in the first place?

Blogger Gregory the Tall February 17, 2020 6:32 AM  

@5 Akulkis
Very good explanation, I had not thought of that. And then when you are advertising through them you suddenly have a living being as your contact person who might actually help you remove the slanderous reviews you had flagged in vain so often before...

Blogger fuzzracer February 17, 2020 6:33 AM  

It's because they know that large volume reviews provide consumer confidence in purchasing a product from Amazon, as opposed to the sense of "buying blind" from competitors sites with far fewer or zero reviews.

Therefore, they choose to have the bulk volume of unverified reviews over the more legitimate but smaller volume of unverified only reviews for commercial reasons. This is heavily indicated in the article too.

Blogger urthshu February 17, 2020 7:20 AM  

Do any online companies have a good review system? The "5-star and textbox" is used by everyone so I'm usually resorting to lengthier often paid-for blog posts or increasingly the manufacturer site itself. Luckily when I do I can find better deals over Amazon that way.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine February 17, 2020 7:20 AM  

Large systems have more dependencies and relationships and are by scale more fragile.

Some of these dependencies and relationships can of course also be of the illegitimate variety....

Blogger KPKinSunnyPhiladelphia February 17, 2020 7:54 AM  

VD wrote:

It's better than nothing, but it's downright embarrassing that a company as heavily invested in AI and machine learning, and as dependent upon an algorithm, as Amazon is can't figure out how to write an algorithm that can easily distinguish an obvious fake review from a legitimate one.

It's easy to see why they don't do this obvious fix.

There's no incentive to do so.

On the other hand, having their best and brightest continually refine their logistics algorithms -- now THAT'S worth it.

Of course, "verified purchase," -- whether allowing for individuals simply to do star reviews or writing review text -- is all but a useless barrier. Just check out the 1 star reviews for any random right leaning book. There are a bunch of folks out there, whether motivated by rage or dollars from Soroa, who obviously slam books without reading them or commenting critically.

A sensible intelligent individual will discount perfunctory highly negative reviews, especially if the weight of reviews is 4 or five stars, and the vast majority of high scoring reviews are written with some degree of care and detail.

So yeah, Amazon should be better, but it's better than nothing.

Blogger Damelon Brinn February 17, 2020 7:58 AM  

Why do they care so much about people who don't have a verified purchase reviewing things?

I always assumed they wanted as many reviews as possible. Popular items get plenty of them, but there are lots of things on their site that don't have a single rating or review at all, which makes them seem risky, like buying insulin from a guy in an alley. Any review is probably better for sales than none at all.

It's funny how they present it as if it's the fake 5-star ratings they're trying to stop, when what the SJWs really care about are the supposed "brigading" campaigns--i.e. any significant negative reviews of things they like. They don't care if a housewife gets scammed over a crappy $20 blender nearly as much as if the latest diversity-promoting movie gets slammed.

Blogger Nate February 17, 2020 8:06 AM  

it makes me think there is some arcane regulatory statute in play that prevents amazon from turning the whole thing over to AI.

Blogger thechortling February 17, 2020 8:18 AM  

At least part of the problem is that you'll notice between Amazon and big box stores there's an increasing convergence of what is actually available as product. Meaning: there is less and less "diversity" of product manufacturers and more and more simple resellers of the same crappy Chinese scrap metal products but re-labeled under a 100 different no-name labels. There is less and less to really rate... it's all goes back to the same zero quality Chinese factory pumping out stuff that lasts for a few months (if it starts at all) and then dies.

Invest in landfills... they're going great guns.

Blogger OneWingedShark February 17, 2020 8:35 AM  

Nate wrote:it makes me think there is some arcane regulatory statute in play that prevents amazon from turning the whole thing over to AI.
Nah, it's probably the "rock and a hard place" dilemma for them:
Either they use good-data for the AI training (because neural-net 'AI' is really pattern-matching, and not real AI) and get the whole "racist resume grader" or else they use the bad data and get the traditional GIGO.

Blogger LZ February 17, 2020 8:51 AM  

They could let the best reviews get paid. Give a small rebate to buyers and let them spend it when they click on helpful reviews. People who write informative reviews can earn money. Ppl go nuts for free likes, microtranactions will work better. Plus, require an account with a credit card and there's your ID.

Blogger Akulkis February 17, 2020 9:07 AM  

@Nate

When have laws ever got in the way of the Internet behomeths doing whatever they want to do?

Or even Microsoft, for that matter.

Microsoft would gladly payed $10M fine practices that would bring it another $5000M in sales.

The Internet companies don't even care about that -- they'll eagerly cut off their noses to spite their faces. Look at how many popular personalities have been kicked off of Facebook/Twitter/Youtube, despite being exactly the sorts who would generate advertising revenue. Amazon is a LITTLE bit better, but not by much.

Blogger Skyler the Weird February 17, 2020 9:22 AM  

Amazon hasn't figured out how to make an SJW A.I. yet.

Blogger furor kek tonicus ( according to the 13th Amendment, Slavery is neither Cruel nor Unusual: MSAGA ) February 17, 2020 9:35 AM  

4. Don't Call Me Len February 17, 2020 6:01 AM
The idea that mere volume = more gooder is a very Amazonian concept.


standard Muh Dumbocracy.

Blogger Blume February 17, 2020 9:45 AM  

I used to think it was good they let me review stuff I read at the library but since they own Goodreads they should just go to only verified customers and have a second goodreads rating.

Blogger KirkTownzen February 17, 2020 9:53 AM  

Years ago I worked for a marketing company that had created a website to promo a book written by a rather famous liberal lawyer. This guy is connected with the Clinton's so I've never mentioned this before, not wanting to become suicided.

After completing the project, we were asked by our manager to order a copy of his new book on our personal Amazon accounts (to be reimbursed) and then leave a fake positive review. I worked for this company for a while, and this was not a typical request. I refused and nobody asked me about it again, but all of my coworkers followed through. Their blatantly fake reviews still sit on Amazon to this day. You can tell they're fake because they come from people with no history of reviewing books and all suddenly appear within a 2 hour window on a book that doesn't get that many reviews.

Blogger Cataline Sergius February 17, 2020 9:53 AM  

Weak wrote:Can't figure out how to write that algorithm, or chooses not to?

I honestly doubt if it's the later.

The deal with Amazon is that it is NOT an online department store catalog.

Amazon just sells stuff to support the A9 algorithm.

That pretty much is that company's business model.

And they do seem to care a great deal about fake reviews. Not negative fake reviews. Not sure they care about those. They hate positive fakes.

If you are an Amazon self publisher and at the end of your book you write, "If you loved my book please give me a five star review." Amazon will de-publish your book until you change it. If you do it more than once they will nuke your KDP account.

Blogger Tars Tarkas February 17, 2020 9:55 AM  

ALL of the reviews on Amazon are questionable. They will not let you post negative reviews of a 3rd party vendor. I had my ability to post reviews removed from my account for posting a single neutral review from a vendor that had shipped me a different product from the one I had ordered.
While books might have a lot of fake negative and positive reviews, when it comes to products you simply cannot trust the reviews.
It took 3 hour long phone calls just to find out why I had my posting abilities removed and nobody could do anything about it. At least a 10 year account with many purchases lost all posting privileges for mentioning the fact that I ordered a specific processor and they sent a different one.

Blogger Uncle John's Band February 17, 2020 10:15 AM  

Interesting that there's no mention of fake negatives.

It's likely that fake 1 stars + "deniability" is a passive aggressive way to undercut badthinkers.

Blogger Johnny February 17, 2020 10:15 AM  

I suppose they don't want to complicate their system, but what comes to mind for me is categorize the ratings by one means or anther. Perhaps let anybody make a writing, but label the non purchaser ratings as Not a Verified Purchaser. Then let the consumer decided if they want to see the non verified purchaser stuff. Sometimes the writings included useful information regardless of source.

Or, you know, whatever method seems best. Let the consumer decide what they want to see.

Blogger CM February 17, 2020 10:16 AM  

It's better than nothing, but it's downright embarrassing that a company as heavily invested in AI and machine learning, and as dependent upon an algorithm, as Amazon is can't figure out how to write an algorithm that can easily distinguish an obvious fake review from a legitimate one.

It's not like they necessarily need to remove the fake reviews. They can preserve the hilarious reviews that have become bookmarks in online reviews (the sugar-free gummi bears come to mind) while removing suspicious reviews from star calculations and label them as "fake".

Blogger LR27 February 17, 2020 10:21 AM  

Seriously, one could make an AI algorithm based on a few hundred data points with very high accuracy with very little work. Finding the string “I never read this book” and controlling for verified purchases is not rocket science. It’s not that hard to add a flag that users can check for “fake review” either. After a few checks, a few amazon employees could check to verify if it should be removed and put a flag on the reviewers account.

Blogger Red Pill Angel February 17, 2020 10:22 AM  

Slightly OT: Has anyone else had difficulties with posting Amazon reviews on certain political subjects, including books by Castalia House? They began sending me notices that my profile was shut down because it was offensive in some way they wouldn't share with me, but it seemed to have something to do with my review of "The Last Closet," since it was now "shielded from public view." I tried editing it a bit, but that didn't work, so finally in a snit I took down every review I'd done over the years except for the most benign arts and crafts stuff. That worked. I reposted my "Last Closet" review today in much reduced form, and am going to try to edit it gradually to see if that sets them off again. How much longer we will have the freedom to even buy books that aren't part of the approved narrative? They are keeping track of everything we buy, and one too many red-pilled purchase sets off something somewhere.

Blogger Ominous Cowherd February 17, 2020 10:24 AM  

Can't or won't? Might be both.

Having their AI write fake reviews could be a small side business for Amazon - wouldn't want to block that.
Then there's the whole SJWs-always-lie angle - couldn't block SJW lies.

Blogger Ominous Cowherd February 17, 2020 10:25 AM  

@6, Nate, Amazon follows laws and regulations? When did this start?

Blogger SemiSpook37 February 17, 2020 10:27 AM  

I always found some of the best "reviews" were fake, and you could tell that they were just by the fact that someone went through the time to put something so outlandish together.

Of course, we need to remember that much of the brainpower that goes into your standard fake reviewing these days isn't even used for that purpose, and it shows. Seriously, it's like these idiots aren't even trying (probably because they aren't; muh clicks and all that).

Blogger kurt9 February 17, 2020 10:39 AM  

This along with a lot of other stuff should tell you that AI and machine learning are more hype than reality.

Blogger DJ | AMDG February 17, 2020 10:45 AM  

The vast majority of fake reviews are actually positive and speed the purchase of items. I know many creators like VD and others suffer from negative fake reviews that might impact sales, but those items and subsequent unit sale losses generally are not what concern Amazon.

Blogger Rex Leroy King February 17, 2020 11:14 AM  

Weak wrote:Can't figure out how to write that algorithm, or chooses not to?

Effect signals intent. Or as Marcus Aurelius said, "the consequence implied the presence of the cause."

Blogger Servant February 17, 2020 11:32 AM  

chain humanCattleUnit to desk;
instruct humanCattleUnit "read reviews";
shock humanCattleUnit if review==fake and humanCattleUnit.lastReviewRead==real;
repeat until expiry;

The notion of reviewing anything over the internet is absolutely fucking retarded. Why there's any trust when half the people believe they are bought by big corporations and the other half believe it's Russian hackers.

Ubers review paradigm is the most fascinating. A four star rating means "this driver sucks, fire him slowly" because it's under the minimum average you have to maintain to remain a driver (not really it's all faked. If you perform certain rituals they remove bad reviews). Couple this with tendency to not say anything at all unless it is to complain or egoists who won't give a five "because perfection is impossible" I quickly stopped caring. When I realized it was actually a khazarian torture chamber and not a way to sell my car three miles at a time I switched to pizza delivery to make ends meet. Better pay, and better return on car damage, and no one asking for a water bottle, or listening to terrible music.

The fake reviews on Amazon is just more khazarian shenanigans. They won't go away because they are the price for operating in the beast system. The black mirror episode.

Blogger steve February 17, 2020 11:44 AM  

If I'm buying an indoor antenna, I tend to trust those reviewers who post photos of channel clarity and the like. Much more reliable than "Works great! I pull in channels from 80 miles away!!!"

Blogger Didas Kalos February 17, 2020 12:11 PM  

Where there's a will, there's a way.

Blogger Skyler the Weird February 17, 2020 12:13 PM  

@29. I lost my Vine reviewer access not long after reviewing Cuckservative.

Blogger Ariadne Umbrella February 17, 2020 12:26 PM  

My dad is barred from leaving reviews on Amazon. He left a review about an enamel pot being enamel on stainless steel, rather than enamel on cast iron. The manufacturer complained, or something. It's ridiculous.

He bought and reviewed books all the time. He's a left wing Democrat.

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