Amazon has removed tens of thousands of product reviews following analyses by academics and media outlets into the problem of fake reviews – an issue said to have worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Financial Times said Amazon UK has removed about 20,000 reviews following an investigation by the paper.
Amazon also removed many of the thousands of reviews used to manipulate the rankings of some 1,500 products examined in a study by the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Large numbers of five-star reviews are a key element in boosting a product’s rankings on Amazon’s websites around the world.
Such reviews, along with price and delivery time, can also allow a product to achieve algorithmically calculated endorsements such as the influential “Amazon’s Choice” label.
The company’s sales system means that unknown companies can achieve large short-term profits for inferior products in a short space of time by soliciting fraudulent five-star reviews, USC and UCLA researchers found.
They found that companies used communications channels such as Facebook groups to solicit five-star reviews by promising a refund for the product, along with a commission in some cases.
The system means the reviews come from a “verified purchase”, giving an appearance of authenticity.
Reviewers then apparently sold the products on eBay, listing them as “unused”, the FT found.
Improved rankings lead to higher short-term sales and quick profits as users are duped by the manipulation of Amazon’s algorithms, the USC and UCLA study found.
But after the manufacturers pulled their incentive programme, rankings quickly plummeted, driven by one-star reviews, and ended up below their initial levels.
The fake review system is overwhelmingly used to improve the visibility of unknown Chinese brands, both investigations found.
The problem has apparently worsened during the pandemic as consumers have flocked to online e-commerce platforms such as Amazon.
Online review analysis group Fakespot said fake reviews appear to have peaked in May, when 58 percent of Amazon UK products were accompanied by apparently fake reviews.
The UK has a “much higher percentage” of fake reviews than Amazon’s other platforms, Fakespot chief executive Saoud Khalifah told the FT.
The paper found that nine of Amazon UK’s top 10 reviewers were engaged in suspicious behaviour. Amazon deleted reviews posted by seven of the region’s top 10 reviewers following the FT‘s probe.
The paper found that Amazon UK’s top reviewer had reviewed £15,000 of products, ranging from smartphones to electric scooters to gym equipment, in August alone, posting a five-star review on average every four hours.
The individual in question made £20,000 since June through eBay sales of products identical to those reviewed on Amazon. The reviewer told the FT the items were duplicates and that he did not profit from five-star reviews.
The Competition and Markets Authority launched a probe in May into manipulated reviews, estimating they influence £23bn in UK online shopping spend each year.
Amazon said it uses AI and user reports to spot false reviews and suspends, bans and sues people who violate its policies.
“We want Amazon customers to shop with confidence knowing that the reviews they read are authentic and relevant,” the company said in a statement.
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