Amazon just banned incentivized reviews - and it could make things worse

October 3, 2016 - FakeFilter


honest and unbiased review

In late 2014, Amazon had sanctified these reviews in their Amazon Community Guidelines. Reviews in exchange for free products were being written long before that, but the clarification and "legalization" by Amazon launched entire businesses that did nothing but find reviewers for sellers. Everyone knew these reviews were bias. Amazon knew it, the reviewers knew it, consumers knew it, and the sellers knew it. An uncontrollable monster was born, and people hated it. Now Amazon is announcing the death of the monster, but we suspect it can't be killed and have lots of evidence that things are about to get a lot worse for Amazon users.

"...since the beginning of 2015, we have brought lawsuits against over 1,000 defendants for reviews abuse. Through these efforts we have obtained data allowing us to take enforcement action against parties not directly involved in the lawsuits, including banning sellers and reviewers." - Amazon Rep, 2015

After Amazon made incentivized reviews a safe place for sellers in late 2014, they begin to aggressively go after companies that continued to use or provide traditional fake reviews in 2015. Suddenly sellers were paranoid. They needed to amplify their product's presences on Amazon with reviews, but even more so they needed to be in Amazon's good graces to begin with. So sellers quit the fake review, and turned to the now legal incentivized review. They did it in droves, and the fake reviews came crashing down in numbers. It seemed like a clever set of moves at the time by Amazon, and what Amazon probably could not have foreseen is just how much these new "honest and unbiased" reviews would upset their user base.

Types of Review by Time

Fake reviews on Amazon dropped incredibly fast, and the new sponsored style fake review rose in popularity rapidly as any Amazon user could partake in all of the programs that got them free stuff in exchange for reviews. Incentivized reviews became so popular that traditional Amazon Vine reviewers entirely abandoned post to join the masses now doing less demanding work and still getting free stuff. Traditional Vine reviews are required to be thorough, in depth, and unbiased. If Amazon detects Vine reviewers moving away from these patterns, they can be kicked from the program. But now anybody could write one paragraph and get a free thing.

So an army of people yearning for free stuff developed, and tons of companies arose from the ashes of the fake review age to act as middleman orchestrating reviews in exchange for product. It was a sort of golden age of this Uber style company, and it all came crashing down a few hours ago. Or did it?

One of the most popular companies that orchestrates these fake reviews, ReviewKick, has already contacted its users and told them not to panic. In fact, things just got easier for them.

"Effective immediately, we no longer request or require customers who purchase products through Review Kick at a discount to leave a product review." - ReviewKick

It seems that, at least for now, ReviewKick has already found an easy loophole out of Amazon's terms of service. Let's check the verbiage on Amazon:

"...you may not provide compensation (including free or discounted products) for a review." – New Terms as of October 3, 2016

It seems straight forward. Amazon can not stop sellers from giving away free goods of discounts, but they can prohibit them from doing so in exchange for reviews. Undoubtedly ReviewKick and the 50 other businesses that run this show will find a way to "legally" coerce their users to keep leaving reviews. And so the problem goes on, but now it gets even worse.

There are two big issues.

The first is that it is now completely unnecessary for reviewers to mention anything about receiving a product for free in their reviews. That means websites like FakeFilter, and more importantly Amazon, will not have easy ways to flag these reviews as bias. While some of these bias reviewers will mention FTC regulations in their reviews as a disclaimer, many will not. The FTC is not going to come down on individual product reviewers and everybody knows it. So, ironically and sadly, we are going to have a lot more of these bias, sponsored, incentivized reviews but now we won't be able to clearly see them for what they are. The wolves have been given back their sheep clothes.

The second is that even if Amazon's Vine program makes a resurgence in popularity, Vine reviews are inherently bias as well. At least they would be easily identified, but Amazon would still allow them to amplify star ratings and sales rank. So Amazon users would still rely on tools such as FakeFilter just to see a product's star rating without the inflation from all the types of bias review.

Average Star Rating by Review Type

Certainly there will be a cooling period, especially among sellers. But exactly what happened in 2014/2015 is going to happen in 2016/2017. And it only took a few hours to see it unfold. The fake reviews will keep coming, and if anything, they will be harder to detect. At least we never have to read "for my honest and unbiased opinion" again. Thanks for that Amazon.