Fake Online Consumer Reviews Attract F.T.C. Scrutiny

Fake online consumer reviews on Amazon and other sites have attracted the scrutiny of the Federal Trade Commission.

Online consumer review sites flummox many business owners – and consumers. That’s because there is no way to prove if a good, bad or indifferent review is legitimate or written by a company owner, employee or competitor. Contributors often post anonymously.

“Some [companies] exalt themselves by anonymously posting their own laudatory reviews. Now there is an even simpler approach: offering a refund to customers in exchange for a write-up,” reports David Streitfeld in a New York Times tech piece.

He cites Bing Liu, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is devising mathematical models that can unmask fake product endorsements.

Readers’ comments like this one are especially thought-provoking:

“My employer creates software applications for websites that allow companies to automatically generate profiles and use those profiles to create fake reviews. I can’t tell you the name but we are one of the top WCM [web content management] companies world-wide and have over 500 customers who use our products. Using sophisticated techniques the “reviews” generated are unique and seem quite real but, in fact, are not. Surprisingly many of our customers use our products to generate comments and reviews for news articles (especially political news articles concerning the upcoming election). The U.S. Army uses our product to add positive comments to articles associated with the war in Afghanistan.”

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