In April of this year Amazon did something that it had never done before: it filed a lawsuit against four websites which had sold reviews to marketplace sellers on its site.
It was only the latest stage in Amazon's years-long efforts to fight fake reviews, and today they're going to court again. Geekwire reported on Friday that, following a months-long undercover investigation, Amazon has filed suit to unmask 1,114 anonymous Fiverr users who were selling their services as reviewers.
Fiverr is a marketplace where users can hire anonymous strangers to perform services which range from cover design, editing video, or crafting a business plan to the less palatable services like selling social media followers - or fake product reviews.
And yes, that includes Amazon reviews. There are around 680 people offering Amazon reviews on Fiverr at this time. They're so easy to find that you merely have to search and then scroll through the many listings promising five-star reviews.
There are so many review-sellers that you could wear out your keyboard just listing all the names, but Amazon doesn't believe in half measures. Amazon didn't just note the names of the sellers, it hired them:
Amazon has conducted an extensive investigation of the defendants’ activities on Fiverr, including purchasing “reviews” for products and communicating directly with some of the defendants.
Many of the reviewers ask that the review text be added along with the payment, and some even promise a "verified review" where they faked buying the product in order to give the review more weight. Both of these tricks are ones we've seen before, and Amazon's not happy.
"Defendants are misleading Amazon’s customers and tarnishing Amazon’s brand for their own profit and the profit of a handful of dishonest sellers and manufacturers. Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping defendants and uprooting the ecosystem in which they participate," Amazon wrote in the court filing. "Although Amazon has successfully requested removal of similar listings from Fiverr in the past, the removal of individual listings does not address the root cause of the issue or serve as a sufficient deterrent to the bad actors engaged in creating and purchasing fraudulent product reviews."
Amazon has been ratcheting up their fight against bogus reviews for several years, and in 2015 they got serious. In addition to that earlier lawsuit, in July Amazon radically changed their review policy to forbid any perceived relationship between reviewers and authors.
It might not look like it, but that policy change is the direct complement to this lawsuit.
That new policy is dependent on algorithms that track social media and other relationships, but the algorithms won't help catch reviewers who launder their services through sites like Fiverr. And that means that if Amazon had changed the policy but not filed suit against Fiverr users, more of the disreputable reviewers would simply have shifted their activities to Fiverr.
Of course, this is as much a game of whack-a-mole as it is anything, so Amazon is probably already looking for the next site where the review sellers might take up residence.
Where do you think that will be?
image by robotchanter