April 13, 2015
Website with limited quality control standards sues other websites for exploiting website’s limited quality control standards
by Mark Krotov
Last week, Amazon filed a lawsuit in Washington’s King County Superior Court against four websites: BuyAmazonReviews.com, BayReviews.net, BuyReviewsNow.com, and BuyAzonReviews.com.
Why did Amazon do this? Let’s go to the complaint:
A very small minority of sellers and manufacturers attempts to gain unfair competitive advantages by creating false, misleading, and inauthentic customer reviews for their products on Amazon.com. While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand. Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews. Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews. Defendants’ businesses consist entirely of selling such reviews.
Amazon is suing the websites for trademark infringement and false advertising, as well as violations of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, the Washington Consumer Protection Act, and Washington Common Law.
The Seattle Times’s article on the lawsuit is well worth reading. The Times’s Jay Greene reached Mark Collins, who owns BuyAmazonReviews.com:
In an email interview, Collins said the site simply offers to help Amazon’s third-party sellers get reviews.
“We are not selling fake reviews. however we do provide Unbiased and Honest reviews on all the products,” Collins wrote. “And this is not illegal at all.”
Collins may not be guilty of violations of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (that’s up for the courts to decide), but he is certainly guilty of crimes against capitalization. (That’s up for me to decide.)
This lawsuit marks the first time that Amazon has gotten tough with fake reviewers. The company’s motivations are certainly understandable—it wants take a stand against the aforementioned “unhealthy ecosystem [that] is developing outside of Amazon,” which sounds like something Winston Churchill once said about a curtain.
Still, I wonder if Amazon would have bothered to go on the warpath if trademark weren’t involved. “Whether positive, negative, or anywhere in between,” says the complaint, “Amazon takes the credibility of its customer reviews very seriously.” But is that really true? Take the Tuscan Whole Milk meme—probably the only good thing Amazon has ever given the world. The many overwrought reviews for a gallon of milk are often very funny, but they have absolutely nothing to do with “credibility.” That the reviews are fake is self-evident and uncontroversial—the joke depends on it.
Or, for a less humorous example, glance through the reviews of any popular book by a left-wing or liberal writer or politician. As soon as the book goes on-sale, you’ll find dozens—often hundreds—of reviews by people who have clearly never read the thing. It’s easy to distinguish a review by someone who has read a book from one by someone who hasn’t, because the latter tends to have nothing at all to do with the book in question. Amazon’s algorithms are surely sophisticated enough to detect this, and if the company were truly concerned with “credibility,” these kinds of reviews would have disappeared long ago. But they’re still there, and proliferating.
Indeed, if Amazon really wanted to wage war against review fraud, it could close the site to all but verified purchasers. While this wouldn’t necessarily stop all of the culprits (Amazon claims that the owner of BuyAzonReviews.com was trying to “fool Amazon into believing the reviewer was a ‘verified purchaser’”), it would be a start.
But Amazon is not going to do this. Nor is it going to crack down on troll reviews or casual shills or sock-puppeteers. Amazon knows that its lack of verification encourages people to contribute reviews in the first place—the unhealthy ecosystem is its own, and it has been created with great intentionality. I don’t think it’s the height of cynicism to assume that if trademark infringement weren’t on the table, we would have never heard of BayReviews.net and its equivalents.
Mark Krotov was a senior editor at Melville House.