Amazon sues fake reviewers

This lawsuit is fulfilled by Amazon: the ecommerce giant takes legal action against a thousand freelancers on crowd-sourcing site Fiverr.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 19 Jan 2016

Multi-billion dollar tech firm Amazon is suing 1,114 freelancers on the crowd-sourcing platform Fiverr, accusing them of illicitly selling reviews of products listed on its site – for as little as $5 (£3.30) a pop. Anyone rooting for the plucky free-workers against the corporate giant may be disappointed – Goliath had nothing on Amazon. He didn’t have an army of expensive lawyers for a start...

This is the second high profile lawsuit the firm has filed this year against reviewers for breaking its terms and conditions. Back in April it was businesses allegedly selling five star ratings. This time it’s individuals - thus far known only by their Fiverr usernames – in the crosshairs.

‘While small in number, these reviews can significantly undermine the trust that consumers and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers place in Amazon, which in turn tarnishes Amazon's brand,’ the firm said in its complaint, filed in a Seattle court on Friday. It’s not suing Fiverr itself, which has said it’s working closely with Amazon to remove the offending services from its site.

Trust is a word that gets thrown around too much by businesses, but in Amazon’s case it really is essential. No one would buy a product they’ve not seen with their own eyes unless they trusted that it is what the seller says it is. Building that trust is precisely the reason founder Jeff Bezos helped pioneer online reviews in the first place, so it’s not surprising he wants to root out fakes.

It might be a tall order though. There are many millions (some estimate several hundred million) of products on Amazon and who knows how many reviews. Figuring out which are real and which are fakes is hard enough, especially when review fraudsters use multiple IP addresses to bypass Amazon’s filters, as the firm claims the Fiverr defendants did. Pursuing them all in court would be all but impossible.

Amazon is trying to do what the movie and recording studios did ten years ago when faced with rampant online piracy (with mixed results - though less prevalant than it was, illegal streaming is still rife). Making examples of the few could make the many think twice. It’s probably also hoping that it will be able to use the case to access the names of the companies that bought fake reviews for their products.

Those businesses also depend on trust, at least for their sales on Amazon. The risk of getting a black mark against their name – or even an outright ban – might make them think twice about buying their publicity in future. Caveat venditor.

Read what it's like to work for crowd sourcing site Fiverr here.

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