Amazon went after fake reviews on its website by filing suit against more than 1,100 individuals who offered to post positive reviews of products for a price.
Filed in Washington state court, Amazon's complaint alleged that the unnamed defendants advertised their services on the website Fiverr.com, promising 5-star reviews and encouraging Amazon sellers to create the text for their own review. For example, "bess98" offered to place "awesome review on your amazon product" using multiple accounts and IP addresses.
Another Fiverr seller offered up to nine "Five Stars" reviews on Amazon for $5 each, adding, "You know the your [sic] product better than me. So please provide your product review, it will be better." In at least one instance, Amazon found a seller willing to receive an empty envelope—and not the product itself—to create a shipping record in an attempt to deceive Amazon customers, the plaintiff alleged.
Amazon emphasized the importance of customer reviews to its business, with "millions" of customers using the reviews each day to assist in purchasing decisions. "Reviews provide a forum for sharing authentic feedback about products and services—positive or negative," the company told the court, adding that it "takes the credibility of its customer reviews very seriously."
False and misleading customer reviews constitute "a very small minority" of reviews on the site, but "[w]hile 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 removal of individual listings from the Fiverr site—which Amazon has requested—does not address the root cause of the problem, Amazon said, nor does it serve as a deterrent.
In addition to violating the Washington Consumer Protection Act, the defendants' actions constitute breach of contract, Amazon said. In order to review a product, an individual must be an Amazon customer with an Amazon account, who has agreed to and is bound by the Conditions of Use for the Amazon site. Among other things, the conditions prohibit paid reviews.
The complaint requested an award of general, special, actual, and statutory damages, including treble damages under the state's consumer protection statute and injunctive relief that would halt the practice, provide identifying information for the John Doe and defendants, and establish an accounting of each defendant's profits.
To read the complaint in Amazon.com v. John Does 1-1114, click here.
Why it matters: As the online marketplace continues to grow, companies are taking action against fake reviews. Amazon filed suit against several websites that sold fake reviews of products in April, after which most of the sites shut down. The company said the new lawsuit targeting individuals who provide the reviews is a continuation of those efforts. And Yelp took similar action earlier this year, filing suit against three websites that offered to write fake reviews.