In April of this year, Amazon filed suit against the operators of websites that offered Amazon sellers the ability to purchase fake, four and five-star reviews of their products. Most of those websites have now been closed, and Amazon took action against the sellers involved. Now Amazon is continuing its crackdown on fake reviews by going after individuals who provide these sort of fake reviews – this time, those who used the online freelancing marketplace fiverr.com.
The defendants in the new case, listed as “John Does,” each used Fiverr.com to sell fake positive or 5-star Amazon reviews. In some cases, they even offered “verified” reviews, meaning those where they buy the product – provided they’re compensated for that, of course. Other times, they also tell the purchaser to just provide the product review and they’ll post it.
The Fiverr site, for those unfamiliar, is an online marketplace where users can offer small tasks and services that begin at just $5, which is where it got its name. Most of the small jobs, or “gigs,” as they’re called are focused on things like offering writing, translation, design, editing, or programming, help. Of course, the site also became a resource for those looking for fake reviews and ratings, not only on Amazon, but also on other sites and services, including app stores.
These sort of gigs would be in violation of Fiverr’s Terms of Service, however, which says that gigs cannot violate a third party’s terms of service.
But Fiverr is not named in the lawsuit directly, as Amazon only goes after those types of sites that actively create an environment for fraudulent activity to thrive. Fiverr, meanwhile, has worked with Amazon in the past to remove these sorts of postings.
“Fiverr has a take-down process in place, but it doesn’t solve the root cause,” an Amazon spokesperson notes.
Instead, the lawsuit’s larger goal is not about getting Fiverr to be more stringent in how it handles job listings for “product reviews,” but is rather an attempt at changing the environment as a whole. That is, once individuals realize that Amazon may sue them – not just the websites, not just the sellers – but individuals engaging in the practice, the hope is that they’ll look for different kinds of gigs in the future.
Only a few individuals who used Fiverr to solicit jobs are used as example in the suit directly, but an attached “Exhibit A” offers a lists containing 1,114 Fiverr users. They’re called out by their Fiverr usernames only, which indicates that Amazon may not have their complete personal information. The lawsuit would be a first step at gaining that info from Fiverr’s logs.
Amazon is asking the court to order the individuals to stop posting jobs offering the sale of Amazon reviews, and provide information about their client list, including who paid them and which reviews they wrote. It also indicates that there could be monetary damages for these Fiverr users, as Amazon asks the court to make the defendants pay the court costs, attorney’s fees, and “additional and further relief.” An exact amount, however, is not requested.
Since its launch in June 1995, Amazon’s reviews system has garnered over a hundred million reviews and ratings. Given its size and importance, Amazon has a team that handles the system full-time, and takes down fake reviews daily. The team even rolled out machine learning intelligence in June, which helps to surface more relevant, recent and trusted reviews, while also learning and adapting its behavior over time.
The April sting operation is only one example of how seriously the retailer takes the problem of fake reviews. Following the earlier case, websites selling reviews were shut down, listings were suspended, and sellers were banned.
Still, even a few fake reviews can damage a company’s reputation.
“Honest and unbiased reviews allow customers to trust that they can shop with confidence on Amazon.com,” the retailer explains in the court filing. “Amazon takes the credibility of its customer reviews very seriously.”
Fiverr is not the only gig marketplace where fake review jobs are listed, so this filing could be just the tip of the iceberg. Though it has nothing on the books now, Amazon could go after other sites’ users in the future.
“The vast majority of reviews on Amazon are authentic, helping millions of customers make informed buying decisions. And our goal is to make reviews as useful as possible for customers,” a spokesperson said, when asked for comment. “We continue to use a number of mechanisms to detect and remove the small fraction of reviews that violate our guidelines. We terminate accounts that abuse the system and we take legal action. We are currently taking legal action against a number of individuals including many that are referred to here.”
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