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Amazon cracks down on fake reviews with another lawsuit

TechCrunch TechCrunch 26/04/2016 Sarah Perez

Amazon is continuing its efforts to crackdown on fake, paid-for reviews of the products it sells on its website, by filing yet another lawsuit against those who offer glowing reviews in exchange for cash. In this latest suit, filed on Friday, the company is targeting the operators of five websites engaged in this business practice. The sites offer verified reviews for books and other products, and have even promised reviewers free products in addition to compensation at times.

The suit names three defendants, Chris Embry, operator of Amazonverifiedreviews.com; Jane John-Nwankwo, operator of Paidbookreviews.org; and John Does 1-5 who run Amazonreviewstar.com, Buyamazonreviews.info, and reviewconnections.com. (Amazon couldn’t identify the site owners in this latter case, which is why they’re only identified in the filing as John Does.)

The sites offer verified reviews and top star ratings in some cases, while in Embry’s case, they promise “honest” reviews that “might not always be positive” but are still paid for and therefore falsified.

While Amazon insists that only a small portion of the reviews on its site at any time are fakes, the company also understands that the very existence of fake review sites and their unethical aims can undermine consumer trust in the entire review system.

That system is a massive and key part to Amazon’s selling machine. Since its launch in 1995, consumers have left over a hundred million reviews and ratings on the site, and it employs a team that handles the take down of fake reviews daily. It even rolled out new algorithms last summer to help identify the more relevant, recent and trusted reviews, and place these in front of online shoppers.

This new suit is the latest in a series of actions Amazon has taken against these fraudulent sites and other “bad actors.” In October, the company sued a number of individuals who had posted offers of fake product reviews on the gig site Fiverr.com, for instance. Prior to that, Amazon filed suit against the operators of other, similar websites that offered fake reviews.

The overall goal with these suits is not just to take down the sites in question or collect damages, but to create a climate where those who enter into this type of business know that they may eventually face a day in court.

In this latest battle, Amazon claims the sites are in violation of various laws and acts, including the Lanham Act, Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, Washington Consumer Protection Act, and Washington Common Law.

The company says it’s seeking damages as a result of its claims. It’s also asking for the defendants to detail their illegal profits, transfer their domains to Amazon, and pay the legal and attorney’s fees associated with the case.

Reached for comment, an Amazon rep offered the following statement:

“While I cannot comment on active litigation, I can share that 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. To help eliminate the incentives to engage in reviews abuse, we will continue to pursue legal action against the root cause of reviews abuse – the sellers and manufacturers who create the demand for fraudulent reviews – as well as the ecosystem of individuals and organizations who supply fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation.”

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