Thursday, August 15, 2019

Amazon Caught in Pay-for-Praise Scheme Involving Hundreds of Employees

Last August Amazon began recruiting so-called “fulfillment center ambassadors,” compensating them to generate praise for the company on twitter (and also elsewhere in social media and on Amazon’s websites). Several hundred employees have been enlisted into the highly questionable, unethical (and likely fraudulent) scheme so far. It’s not the first time Amazon has resorted to highly questionable, unethical practices when its public image or sales/earnings were at risk. Amazon has used fake praise, fake reviews and other fake commentary widely in the past. My article titled “Amazon’s Blackened Soul” (http://readindies.blogspot.com/2016/08/amazons-blackened-soul.html) highlighted the fake reviews generated by Amazon employees, including Bezos’s own wife, to kill sales of Brad Stone’s book about Amazon and Bezos entitled “The Everything Store,” while simultaneously ensuring any bad press or other fallout related to the book was whitewashed and minimized.

Persons associated with Amazon, and in particular employees, had a vested, financial interested in limiting the success of Stone’s book, reducing its potential impact on Amazon’s bottom line and controlling the message surrounding the book. None more so than executives, management staff and others holding stock or stock options in the company. Amazon guidelines do not allow any persons with a financial interest in a product (either for or against) to review a product, but that didn’t stop persons associated with the company from ensuring their messaging, damage control and spin was heard far and wide.

Stone’s book had the potential to cause both a significant hit to Amazon’s public image and an enormous impact on Amazon’s bottom line, especially in the days leading up to and following its publication. Without Amazon’s public spin and careful management of perception through reviews and other means, Stone’s book could have caused lasting, long-term damage to the company and its reputation, not to mention its CEO.

Make no mistake that Amazon was in a precarious position in the timeframe surrounding the publication of The Everything Store. Amazon as a public company had never been consistently profitable in its nearly 20-year history (at the time), quite the contrary it had been a consistent money loser. A sway in public opinion could have derailed its access to capital markets. The difference between Amazon then and Amazon now is nearly a trillion dollars in market capitalization.

Caught in this latest scheme, Amazon has admitted that the company is paying employees to generate praise on twitter. (See https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/08/15/amazon-ambassadors-program-pays-workers-positive-twitter/2023111001/) Meanwhile, the pay-for-praise scheme extends into other social media sites and onto Amazon’s own websites, where it has been used to combat criticism, complaints and more related to the company. By paying its employees to generate praise for the company, Amazon has once again ignored the basic tenants of the foundation upon which the company is supposedly built.

Amazon terms of service forbid anyone from trying to manipulate their reputation in Amazon’s marketplace. Amazon’s terms of service forbid anyone from compensating for feedback of any kind. With Amazon unabashedly breaking its own rules any time it suites, is it any wonder that fraud is rampant both within Amazon’s own rank and file and on its websites where there are over a billion fake reviews. (See http://robertstanek.blogspot.com/2019/06/amazons-fake-reviews-robert-stanek.html)

As I’ve discussed previously in Amazon Employees Caught Creating Fake Ebay Seller Accounts (https://robertstanek.blogspot.com/2019/08/amazon-employees-caught-creating-fake-accounts.html), Amazon gets away with decades of corporate malfeasance, federal crimes, abusive practices and more by publicly claiming to be a marketplace disruptor. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the company has tight controls over the press and state, local and federal government, and works over time to manage public perception, to spin reality, and perform damage control whenever it is caught in the act.

Let’s circle back, what’s most interesting about all this is that Amazon strictly prohibits sellers from protecting their reputation on its websites (and by extension in social media) by direct response, commentary or otherwise, regardless of whether the reviews, feedback and/or commentary the seller is seeking to protect themselves from are patently false, paid for by competitors, developed as part of smear campaigns or otherwise.

Heard of Prime Day? Who hasn’t. Amazon has spent an estimated $100 million+ developing and deploying strategies to protect its Prime Day events and sales from negative commentary and criticism, including training and paying for nearly 1000 employees, consultants, contractors and other affiliated persons that manage strategy, marketing, damage control, spin and messaging while striking back against criticism, complaints and any other commentary Amazon dislikes in the days leading up to, occurring on and subsequent to Prime Days.

Now this is all just very strange since this occurs not only in social media in real time but also on Amazon websites in real time despite clear terms of service explicitly prohibiting any and all parties from such behavior. Odd how rule-maker Amazon not only completely ignores the rules but breaks them whenever the company wants. Odder still that this is all part of a planned and carefully deployed strategy to protect Amazon’s reputation and sales at all costs, as ordered by the executive officers and management of the company. Hello Mr. Bezos.

So, hmmm. No party can do anything, such as simple response or commentary to patently false or fake feedback, on Amazon websites, and by extension according to terms of service no party can do anything in social media that is contrary to Amazon’s terms of service, such as simply asking those who had a positive experience with a product for comments or feedback—regardless of whether said product is being falsely maligned or flooded with fake commentary. Only Amazon can do this because only Amazon can do whatever it wants whenever it wants despite clear terms of service mandating otherwise—and only Amazon employees, consultants, contractors and other paid workers can make positive commentary and/or ask others for their positive experiences.

Hmmm… Take a moment to appreciate the scale of the 1,000-person operation plotting for and protecting Prime Days and related events from any criticism and commentary Amazon considers unsuitable. That’s a scale and scope that only a company with a near trillion-dollar market cap could afford. But just because you can throw millions of dollars at something doesn’t make it right, fair or just. People who want to criticize, complain and comment about negative experiences related to Amazon should be able to do so without real-time damage control operators stepping in with positive and contrary opinion, spin and damage control. It is in fact highly questionable, unethical (and possibly fraudulent) to pay hundreds of people to generate positive commentary for a company or product—even for a trillion-dollar company named Amazon.

So there you have it, not just one but two more examples of questionable, unethical and likely criminal schemes used by Amazon to manipulate public opinion, spin reality and ensure nothing affects its bottom line. The least of the schemes discussed involves several hundred employees, the greater involves many hundreds—a scope and scale that boggles the mind and clearly demonstrates that congressional and federal inquiries of Amazon should only be the beginning of deeper investigations on the path toward mandated federal oversight, extensive federal sanctions and ultimately the breakup of this monopoly’s stranglehold over US e-commerce.

It should be clear to all that by paying its employees and others to fight criticism, spin reality and generate positive commentary on its websites and social media that Amazon has opened itself up to liabilities and prosecution the company is otherwise protected from under Section 230 of the Communications Decency act. Amazon executives and managers made clear and unmistakable decisions to pay employees and others to generate content and commentary, and therefore opened themselves up to prosecution, not only for the many false, misleading and otherwise controversial statements and content generated and displayed on company websites in the pay-for-praise schemes but for any and all content generated.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Guy Who Shares a Birthday With Tolkien Has Done Okay

It's official, my 250th book. Celebration soon. 20 million words, tens of thousands of pages. Published and/or distributed by every majo...