Saturday, September 17, 2022

Amazon Rings of Power: Reviews Blanked Out due to Fanboy Spamming, Then Back with "Incentivized" Reviews

Extensive review spamming is something I've experienced myself. Most reviews of my books on Amazon.com were removed because fanboys (and paid actors) of certain authors were flooding my books with fake reviews. I had always suspected Amazon staff were paid participants in these recurring activities, which dated back to 2001, and this was proven true when the US DOJ indicted Amazon staff for exactly that : targeting products with fake negative reviews. But the scheme, and as I experienced it over many years, was much larger than that. In exchange for bribes, corrupted Amazon staff facilitated attacks against competitors of those paying the bribes, using their inside access to Amazon's network to suspend competitors' accounts and product listings, remove favorable reviews and commentary, write fictitious negative product reviews designed to hurt sales, post spurious comments to intimidate victims and drive away customers, and much more. 

The DOJ announced the initial indictments in September 2020. Earlier this year, there have been trials and guilty pleas. At trial in February 2022, one of the participants was sentenced to prison. At trial in May 2022, two more pleaded guilty. In October 2022, there will be another trial for two others.

Amazon knows the power of reviews. Back in the mid-90s they paid a bounty up to $50 to encourage people to write reviews as the website had a paltry few and it impacted sales. So when Amazon spends $1B on a TV show (The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) that is a pet project of Jeff Bezos and the show gets flooded with negative reviews from fanboys, their first reaction is to hide the reviews completely. Their next is to create a "supportive reviews" program that is trying to flood out the fanboy spamming and then bring back the previously hidden reviews (or at least most of them, as many thousands disappeared).

A surprise to anyone? It shouldn't be, given Amazon's long history of abusive, misguided and anti-competitive activities. Amazon.com has cheated and bullied its way to a $1T market valuation while abusing and underpaying its workers, stealing ideas, products and business plans from anyone and everyone and lobbying congress to keep it all swept under the rug. Case in point, the fake Amazon ambassador program where Amazon workers were paid to lie and praise their working conditions in an attempt to convince us all that their workers weren't underpaid, overworked, forced to pee in bottles because they don't have time for bathroom breaks, etc.

'Fake' Amazon ambassadors baited on Twitter

Twitter bans "fake" Amazon workers praising company

Twitter nixes accounts pretending to be happy Amazon workers

The bizarre story behind those 'Amazon ambassadors' on Twitter

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

Case in point, how Amazon resorted to similar tactics to break support for unions:

Pro-Amazon bots fill Twitter with anti-union rhetoric

How Amazon Crushes Unions

Amazon's Anti-Union Bullying

Pro-Amazon, Anti-Union Bots Are Once Again Swarming Twitter

Case in point, the many, many posts I've written about Amazon here and at http://readindies.blogspot.com/ over the past twenty years that point out other maleficence. For many years, I've also been asking Amazon to only show the overall rating, and then display the actual reviews on a separate page.

On video pages, reviews are not shown by default, but are easily accessible in the Details section, which you access by clicking the star rating of a video or the Details heading. Amazon does this for videos because the company spends billions on this category of media and wants to ensure the best return possible. Why not do the same for books and authors?

Waiting for an answer, an apology for years of abuse, and royalties for the separate review page idea since you implemented it exactly as I prescribed.

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

--

Addendum

Reader: A few of these bad actors appear to have used their friends in India that were Amazon employees (before they were discovered and fired), so I’m not sure I’d chalk that up to a corporate bad act, per se.

Indictments and guilty pleas earlier in the year said “Those 3P sellers sold a wide range of goods, including household goods, consumer electronics, and dietary supplements.” but I didn’t see anything indicating they were targeting authors or books.

I have no doubt that competing authors use fake accounts to trash the competition to sell more of their own books in the same genre, but those are individuals, not Amazon. And of course there’s not much they can do about trolls and fanboys.

I’m sure you’re much closer to it all than me, as long as you’ve been in the game. But I wonder how many people really make purchase choices (especially of books) based on trolls and their yard-poop negative reviews. If it’s not something backed by a verifiable ID or a credit card, I pretty much ignore it, personally.

I could see where they’d want to sweep aside the yard-poop of fanboys, for their own products, especially high visibility series. Doing it for everyone with products may not be as feasible.

Response: In the particular case, they were targeting everything and anything they were paid to target. Period. These types of activities have been ongoing since Amazon has been around because culturally much of the core of Amazon itself is unethical and the DOJ caught red-handed one group of MANY MANY such groups that were at the time, or had in the past, operated out of the company.

The DOJ included evidence on the specific instances they were able to track in a specific timeframe, not every instance of every despicable act by this ONE group over its entire existence. A case of prove what you have the evidence to prove. A goal of course was to stand up and tell these types operating out of Amazon that they were NOT untouchable and a goal of which was to tell Amazon it had better clean up its act.

For me personally, the very fact that the US DOJ proved in court that Amazon insiders were a part of these despicable activities was vindicating. Not only did the DOJ prove to be true and correct what I had been saying for years and years, the DOJ also proved in court that targeting products with fake negative reviews was only one part of a larger scheme to harm targeted companies and products. Again, the DOJ proved in court that in exchange for bribes, corrupted Amazon staff facilitated attacks against competitors of those paying the bribes, using their inside access to Amazon's network to suspend competitors' accounts and product listings, remove favorable reviews and commentary, write fictitious negative product reviews designed to hurt sales, post spurious comments to intimidate victims and drive away customers, and much more. All much as I experienced it on the receiving end of what was meant to, and did, destroy sales of my books for years and years.

As far as verified reviews or verified purchase reviews, etc, these types of reviews are as much B.S as the rest of them. Faked as soon as, and even before, Amazon introduced. These criminal types anticipated these actions and in many cases knew ahead of time these changes to the review system were coming. Either through Amazon's own announcements or through inside information.

As far as yard-poop fanboy reviews go, having been on the receiving end of people creating fake reviews, you have no idea what these types of capable of and how they operate. It's not just one and two star drive-thru drops of drivel. There is often specific intent to cause harm to the book and the author.

They use 3, 4 and 5 star reviews crafted in such a way as to deter purchases as much as 1 and 2 star reviews. And it's not just reviews... it's a pattern of attacks to get a book de-listed, removed from sale, whatever it takes.

They abuse the Amazon comments and discussion. They report books for supposed issues that don't exist. More.

You have no idea until you've been on the receiving end how much work these types will put in when they're being paid to do it.

Reader Follow-up: That being said, I do believe book authors should be able to turn off reviews of their product in Amazon. It’s too easy for peers to game it. Same as bloggers and news publishers can turn off comments. Shit posters are a major problem.

Response: The entire Amazon review system is gamed. Products don't get 50000 reviews without incentives. Reviews equal money in Amazon's pocket. When bad reviews cost Amazon money, they make it harder to find the reviews, such as with Amazon Video. When bad reviews cost someone else money, they put the reviews front and center.

Amazon itself benefits from the gamed review system and games the review system when it serves its purposes, such as by sending emails to purchasers of its private products to review products they liked or contact them otherwise to resolve any issue. These emails are carefully worded to get positive reviews. These reviews lead to more sales and more sales increase total revenues and total revenues are king. Incidentally, individual sellers are banned from doing the same or similar, though many often do and its how they end of with 50000 gushing reviews of some random toiletry product.

Reader: William Robert Stanek agreed. Some things are just out our control, though. 

Response: Thank you I will keep after the evil empire since I have no other choice as they control the majority of the marketplace for books and authors. I don't shop at Amazon or use any of their products, no one in my immediate family does. I do stand, and always have, with Amazon workers who want fair wages for fair work in an ethical workplace, and will continue to be a thorn in Amazon's side on this issue as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment