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Carbonite Stacks the Deck With 5-Star Reviews

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the gaming-that-system dept.

Businesses 197

The Narrative Fallacy writes "In the aftermath of disclosures that Belkin employees paid users for good reviews on Amazon, David Pogue reports in the NYTimes that Carbonite has gone one better with 5-star reviews of its online backup services written by its own employees. Pogue recounts how Bruce Goldensteinberg signed up for the backup service, and all went well until his computer crashed and he was unable to restore it from the online backup while Carbonite customer support kept him on hold for over an hour. Frustrated, Goldensteinberg started reading Carbonite reviews on Amazon and a few of them seemed suspicious. 'They were created around the same date — October 31, 2006 — all given 5 stars, and the reviewers all came from around the Boston, MA area, where Carbonite is located,' including a review by Swami Kumaresan that read more like a testimonial. 'It turned out that Swami Kumaresan is the Vice President of Marketing for Carbonite. His review gives no indication that he is employed by the company.' Another review posted by Jonathan F. Freidin extols Carbonite without mentioning Freidin's position as Senior Software Engineer at Carbonite. 'It doesn't matter to me that Carbonite's fraudulent reviews are a couple of years old,' writes Pogue. 'These people are gaming the system, deceiving the public to enrich themselves. They should be deeply ashamed.'"

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197 comments

Deeply ashamed? (4, Insightful)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635435)

No, prosecuted. That is conflict of interest.

Re:Deeply ashamed? (4, Informative)

kachakaach (1336273) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635605)

No, prosecuted. That is conflict of interest.

"Conflict of Interest" is not a criminal offense. You might have a civil case for fraud, but I doubt seriously if any criminal charges would ever be filed, let alone upheld in a court.

Leave them alone slashdot (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26635985)

Leave them alone but we welcome the added exposure

Re:Deeply ashamed? (3, Interesting)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637207)

"Conflict of Interest" is not a criminal offense. You might have a civil case for fraud, but I doubt seriously if any criminal charges would ever be filed, let alone upheld in a court.

Alright, I'll bite. As a consumer, how can I start suing them?

Re:Deeply ashamed? (2, Insightful)

Cowmonaut (989226) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637321)

First, buy their product. Otherwise you have no grounds to sue. (IANAL except occasionally on Friday nights)

Re:Deeply ashamed? (1)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637989)

More importantly (as a Carbonite customer) what similarly priced services are there? I went with Carbonite over a few other services because at home I happen to have a server that is perceived by the industry to be an 'enterprise' product, meaning I would be charged an 'enterprise' price for using the service. I find this preposterous, considering my backups of music, photos, etc. to be under 100GB--no where near 'enterprise' class backup.

Now, I have never had to do a full backup recovery, but this does make me nervous as a customer. What offsite backup services do you all use?

Prosecution (4, Informative)

asifyoucare (302582) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635879)

In Australia they would probably be prosecuted under section 52 of the Trade Practices Act, for misleading or deceptive conduct.

I think the U.K. has a similar law.

Re:Prosecution (0, Redundant)

S-100 (1295224) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636167)

OK, but wouldn't Amazon also be a party that is misleading the people? They want the benefit of providing "user" reviews for their potential customers, but they don't vet the reviewers.

Re:Prosecution (2, Informative)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637199)

The reviews are clearly labeled "user" reviews, as you mention, not CEO reviews and not employee reviews.

Re:Deeply ashamed? (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637323)

Maybe all fanboys should be prosecuted for a conflict of interest for downplaying the downsides of their favourite technology.

Re:Deeply ashamed? (2, Insightful)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637819)

No, prosecuted. That is conflict of interest.

Three words: Freedom of Speech.

And here are two more words for you: caveat emptor [wikipedia.org] .

It's not a good idea to "prosecute" people for holding opinions, even if they are opinions that they have an interest in. [Of course, in many places in Europe, they put you in jail [bbc.co.uk] for thinking the wrong thoughts, but I digress. Or do I?]

Re:Deeply ashamed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26638335)

"Bruce Goldensteinberg" - surely that has to be a joke? Is he a JEW, by any chance? Such chutzpah!!!

GOLDEN - STEIN - BERG!!!

Do you get 50 points for each 'Jew' sounding part of your surname? Hilarious!

What about
Silverbergsteingoldsten!!! There's a nice, 'modest' Jewish name...

Oh great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26635441)

and I've been suggesting this to customers. I hate that kind of thing.

Maybe they should put the marketing people in carbonite!

Not news (4, Funny)

Jabbrwokk (1015725) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635457)

Why is anyone surprised? This happens all the time. Anonymous reviews on the Internet + unscrupulous company + morally-gray bloggers looking for a bit of easy cash = cheap, positive publicity.

So... yeah, my blog is in my profile and, uh, I'm willing to sell a bit of my soul if any companies reading this are interested...

Anon reviews not surprising, but -- (5, Funny)

zooblethorpe (686757) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635583)

... only they weren't anonymous. I know this is Slashdot and no one RTFAs, but did you even read the posting?

...including a review by Swami Kumaresan ...
Another review posted by Jonathan F. Freidin...

Cheers,

Re:Anon reviews not surprising, but -- (2, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636445)

... only they weren't anonymous. I know this is Slashdot and no one RTFAs, but did you even read the posting?

Not anonymous, but incompetent. It is like the pointy-haired-manager's version of an astroturf campaign.

Re:Anon reviews not surprising, but -- (1)

xigxag (167441) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636861)

I would imagine he meant "anonymous" in the colloquial sense of "a random individual." Until his relationship to the company was uncovered, Swami Kumaresan was unknown to me and to the average person -- the name might as well be Sqzqz Kzxzxzxzx.

Kumaresan was specifically relying on being "anonymous" to the world-at-large to get away with his scam.

Amazon Reviewers ... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26637607)

I write reviews of products that I purchase on Amazon - over 20 of them. I've added photos to some - a backpack that didn't have any good photos.

Anyway, a recent review of a TV got a comment back that I needed to read the manual to see that I wasn't using the inputs correctly. The guy said he didnt have the TV, but for some reason decided to
a) read my review
b) pull the manual to verify complete accuracy
c) write a response to point out where my issues with the set were wrong

Seller motive or someone out to clean up amazon reviews? I don't think this was another buyer, like everyone else on amazon.

I responded to his comments, pointing out that I could be wrong on a few points, then providing a 2 month of use review.

nobody is "surprised", it still needs reporting (4, Insightful)

speedtux (1307149) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635909)

Why is anyone surprised?

Who says that anybody is "surprised"? It doesn't "surprise" me that people murder, steal, and cheat and that companies pollute, evade taxes, and bribe politicians.

I still want to see it reported and publicized.

Re:nobody is "surprised", it still needs reporting (1)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636805)

I still want to see it reported and publicized.

OK, so I'm reporting this: There is not a book or piece of software distributed from a major publishing house that is not being pumped by employee user reviews on major online sites. This behavior is not the exception, it is the standard operating procedure for online retail, prevalent for the last 2-3 years. It is in fact a duty in the job description for just about any entry level marketing position.

I had thought that everybody with a modicum of online retail savvy knew this, but the shock and outrage that I'm reading here today would indicate otherwise.

Re:nobody is "surprised", it still needs reporting (1)

bit01 (644603) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637463)

This behavior is not the exception, it is the standard operating procedure for online retail, prevalent for the last 2-3 years.

So you are saying fraud by marketers is the norm? Most fraud is criminal, this should be criminal too.

---

Anonymous company communication is unethical and can and should be highly illegal. Company legal structures require accountability.

Re:nobody is "surprised", it still needs reporting (2, Insightful)

gclef (96311) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637867)

This behavior is not the exception, it is the standard operating procedure for online retail,

...and yet it remains unacceptable behavior.

The only way to change something that sucks, even if it is "standard operating procedure," is to make a lot of noise, cause the people doing it to lose money/face, and make "standard operating procedure" look a lot less "standard." This is what the people here are doing. I see nothing wrong with them trying to change this behavior.

Re:nobody is "surprised", it still needs reporting (1)

mpaulsen (240157) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637699)

I still want to see it reported and publicized.

You can add Purdy (part of Sherwin-Williams) to your list of offenders.
http://www.ownrecognizance.com/purdy.html [ownrecognizance.com]

These guys are all doing business in California. I wish they would be nailed based on this:
California's Business & Professions Code 17200 prohibits "unfair or fraudulent business act[s] or practice[s] and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising".
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=bpc&group=17001-18000&file=17200-17210 [ca.gov]

Re:Not news (5, Interesting)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637997)

Just last weekend I read a study that said over 80% of reviews are 4 or 5 star, not because they love the product, but because people are embarassed to say that they bought a bad product. The person with the negative experience typically either exagerates the positive or does not rate the product.

Not In Good Graces Error Reporting (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26635461)

While it's apalling, it's hardly surprising.

Look to the spamwars of Amazon on the release date of Spore -- that's how easy it is just don't be too obvious. If you want decent reviews then you'll have to rely on experience and reading material such as Consumer Reports.

Re:Not In Good Graces Error Reporting (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26635747)

Yes, it is apalling because your subject line abbreviates to N.I.G.G.E.R.

Re:Not In Good Graces Error Reporting (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26636057)

And yours to re-nigger. Has no-one told you we don't black up any more?

Re:Not In Good Graces Error Reporting (5, Interesting)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636409)

I used to write books, and I hated the fact that you lived and died by the sword of Amazon. And I knew that some authors were gaming their books with better ratings.

While I am not the worlds best writer, I do feel I ok and give my readers some useful information. I don't feel that my books are a waste of money.

Having said that it hurts when your book does really well, and then it is knocked back by the competition. I had a book that hit the top rated, and it was being ranked higher than one of the competition. The competition got some reviewers out and knocked my book back.

I stopped buying at Amazon since I can get cheaper books at a1books.

Re:Not In Good Graces Error Reporting (2, Insightful)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636579)

While I am not the worlds best writer, I do feel I ok

Is it safe to assume you keep an editor on retainer? Sorry, I just couldn't resist :).

Re:Not In Good Graces Error Reporting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26637107)

While I am not the worlds best writer, I do feel I ok

It really shows!

Re:Not In Good Graces Error Reporting (2, Insightful)

jbolden (176878) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637623)

That's really not true. For most books the reviews are quite good. This problem is still limited, though as Amazon seems like it is facing the same problem google did a decade ago. Their reviews are getting influential enough that people game the system. Amazon is going to need to start protecting itself and punishing people who try to game the system.

I'm not surprised... (3, Interesting)

Facegarden (967477) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635471)

Have you heard their ads? They sound like a scam just from that. Or at the very least, they use the annoying advertising tactic of making other options sound way worse than they are, like an infomercial. I hate that company just from their ads, I'm not surprised they really are shady.
-Taylor

Re:I'm not surprised... (2, Funny)

reset_button (903303) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635621)

Or maybe you're just posting a negative review because you work for the competition? :-)

Re:I'm not surprised... (4, Funny)

Facegarden (967477) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635693)

Or maybe you're just posting a negative review because you work for the competition? :-)

Haha, crap! Yes, you figured me out! I work for the "Build your own Damn Ubuntu RAID server, damnit!" company!
-Taylor

Re:I'm not surprised... (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636157)

Or maybe you're just posting a negative review because you work for the competition? :-)

perhaps the way to fix this is for competitors to use the negative press generated from this to discredit them, if Mozy [mozy.com] said not to bother with them because you can never trust them anymore, I'm sure it'd be a good campaign :)

(notice my link is the referral, they give me even more space that I won't use - remove if you're not happy with it, but I'm a very happy customer of Mozy, and I don't even work for them!)

Re:I'm not surprised... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26636429)

Have you heard their ads?

Not being in the US, no. But I remember hearing a few years back that they'd decided to exploit their router customers by insert ads into the router's http traffic. That alone was enough to make me never buy ANYTHING Belkin again.

Re:I'm not surprised... (1)

swillden (191260) | more than 5 years ago | (#26638365)

Have you heard their ads? They sound like a scam just from that.

Not just their ads. There are all kinds of small claims on their web site that smell like snake oil. Stuff like: "We encrypt your files twice before backing them up securely offsite, using the same encryption techniques that banks use."

Twice? Really. I guess if once is good, then twice is better?

If you're in the market for something like this, I suggest taking a look at allmydata.com [allmydata.com] . It costs more ($10 per month for unlimited storage, rather than $5), but unlike Carbonite and Mozy it keeps all of your data forever, rather than deleting files 30 days after you delete them from your computer. It gives you a web-based "Time Machine" view that lets you see your data as it was on any given date.

Allmydata is also very geek-chic, since it's all open source [allmydata.org] , and uses erasure coding on your files to ensure reliability even if a server (or seven!) die. I believe they use a 3-of-10 scheme, where 10 shares of each file are distributed across 10 different servers, and any three of them are enough to recover the file.

Disclaimer: I don't work for allmydata.com, but I am using their distributed file system software to build my own P2P backup solution, to make it easy for groups of friends and family to set up their own backup systems by sharing parts of their drives over the net. The allmydata developers are very supportive of this effort, even though it's a potential competitor with their commercial offering.

Just another kind of spam (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26635477)

Frankly I'm surprised to find any useful feedback at all, given the ease for submitting reviews. The only thing keeping
things from going completely insane is that large companies don't want to get caught cheating.

For smaller stuff, I've already noticed that on the digital products (like Kindle books) where the barrier for entry
is much lower, review spam is a much bigger issue.

Re:Just another kind of spam (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636501)

I always read the negative reviews. See what the those disappointed have to say. Sometimes it is stuff I already new, sometimes it is people who were not the target, sometimes they just wine, or sometimes I learn something new.

Re:Just another kind of spam (4, Insightful)

El Lobo (994537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636895)

I always discard the good reviews AND the bad ones as well. The middle ones explain often why the product is not THAT good and why it's not THAT bad. Exactly like the real life: nothing is black and white, but there's a lot of gray shades there in between.

Re:Just another kind of spam (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 5 years ago | (#26638127)

While your review parsing methodology appears sound, your opinion about life being not black and white fails it. Evil exists. Good exists. Decisions can be made on fundamental truths.

Can't wait till Amazon loses those reviews. (4, Funny)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635487)

"I'm sorry sir, but we've had a problem with our online backup service".

Greed (3, Interesting)

GF678 (1453005) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635507)

They should be deeply ashamed.

You're assuming they have morals.

Sometimes I wonder - how often do good people in a ruthless business environment actually remain good people? Sometimes I wonder whether the ultra-competitive nature of business causes upstanding moral people to turn into greedy fucks who have lost their original principles and instead turned to making money at all costs.

Kinda scares me, what our capitalistic society sometimes forces people to become to survive in business. Assuming, of course, that I'm not just being naïve and that these people were simply without scruples before they started to cheat their customers with shonky reviews and what else.

Re:Greed (2, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635897)

Much of it is just greed. Auto mechanics have been ripping people off for many decades. It's just too easy to feed the average customer some bullshit and make some quick and easy money.

Kind of a philosophical question (4, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636033)

Well, I'm guessing the latter. I mean: does

A) power corrupt formerly honest and nice people, or

B) it's just natural selection at work, at the biggest turds float to the top?

It seems to me more like B, though I can't say I've done a real study or anything.

The thing is, if you have a dog-eat-dog set up, the ones who refuse to eat other dogs (e.g., because of having morals) never make it big in the first place. Either they don't get promoted, or they get their prices undercut by someone who saves by being a bigger fuck, and either go bankrupt or bought.

As an extreme example to illustrate a point, think, say, a third world country where it's not illegal to dump toxic stuff in rivers and safety laws are non-existent. So company A are the nice guys, they don't want to screw over their workers and community. They invest in filters, invest in safe equipment and training, doesn't bribe/deceive/lobby/make backroom deals, etc. So their products are more expensive. Their competitor, company B, are owned and led by a couple of greedy fucks, who just skip all that extra cost and do any tricks in the book to get a goverment subsidy or contract. If it's a big bribe or shady deal that gets that job done, so be it. So their products are cheaper. Do you have any doubts as to who's going to push the other off the market?

(It's not even as much a hypothetical example, because it used to happen in the first world too, in the not so distant past. E.g., back when the Titanic was built, the norm was IIRC to have one dead worker for every million dollars worth of ship built. The Titanic was remarkable in that they only had IIRC 3 dead workers in accidents during building. But anyway, roll that in your head, they actually made statistics and found it acceptable to kill people rather than spend money on safety. It's not a funny thought.)

It's easy to look afterwards at the big resulting conglomerate "B Industrial Corp" and think, "man, all that power corrupted them." But in fact they got to power by not being nice in the first place.

Re:Kind of a philosophical question (1)

Repossessed (1117929) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636099)

(It's not even as much a hypothetical example, because it used to happen in the first world too, in the not so distant past. E.g., back when the Titanic was built, the norm was IIRC to have one dead worker for every million dollars worth of ship built. The Titanic was remarkable in that they only had IIRC 3 dead workers in accidents during building. But anyway, roll that in your head, they actually made statistics and found it acceptable to kill people rather than spend money on safety. It's not a funny thought.)

The Titanic also (probably) sank because somebody bought sub quality steel bolts. Their worker safety record doesn't really counteract that part.

Also, it is a hilarious thought. But then I'm a horrible person.

Re:Kind of a philosophical question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26636949)

I Think also it's option B.
There was this story in the book Freakonomics, by Levit, of a guy who had a business of putting donuts boxes every morning in several companies floors. Anyone who took a donut was supposed to put a dollar in a box. This guy kept records of everything and had an average "honesty" percentage of 87% (i.e. 87% of ppl who took a donut indeed payed for it and not just stole it because the donut box is unwatched). The most interesting part is that this honesty ratio is not uniformly distributed between the companies floors (i.e. hierarchical structure) with the lower floors being much more honest than the higher and the executives...

Re:Greed (1)

transporter_ii (986545) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637249)

It seems like our entire economy is based top to bottom on how much you can screw somebody. An electrician's car breaks down, the mechanic screws him for just as much money as he thinks he can get away with, but that's ok because the electrician will screw you for just as much money as he can possibly suck out of you. And then all three of you get sick and go to a freaking doctor...who screws all three of you and your insurance company, if any of the bunch is lucky enough to have insurance. And then out of this pool of crap, we elect people to office, who promptly start screwing the public for as much money as they think they can possibly get away with without winding up swinging from a rope.

I swear I sometimes wonder how the US has made it as long as it has. It is hard to believe we can remain competitive in the world economy, when so much of our money didn't come from any actual service or product, but rather comes from screwing people. I hope people enjoy it while they can, because one of these days the bubble is going to burst. Oh, maybe it has...

It reminds me of the excellent movie, the Devils Advocate. Only in our economy, the devil just isn't a lawyer, he is a doctor, a mechanic, the retail stores, the RIAA/MPAA, the politicians, the insurance companies, the salesmen, the retail stores, the manufacturers, the customers etc. etc., and each and every one of them is setting out to drown us in a sea of their dishonesty.

I don't believe that (3, Interesting)

portforward (313061) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637835)

I'm not saying that there are no unethical businesses, but I believe that most transactions are done in good faith. Maybe it is the field that I have chosen, but most business relationships that I encounter on a day-to-day basis are built on mutual trust and common goals. In fact, if I didn't trust my vendors, I wouldn't do business with them. Period. If I can't rely on the product that they sell me, it is of no use to me. If my company's customers didn't trust the product that we sell, we would go out of business really, really fast. (I work in health care, so people could literally die). If you need a widget to help you perform your core competency, then you make the mistake of buying the cheapest alternative only once. Once you get into big business then having disruptions becomes way too costly to not have vendors and customers that you trust. Even saying that, usually when I run into problems I can more likely attribute the problem to incompetence rather than to malfeasance.

Obviously you have your Enrons, your Madoffs, and your Carbonites, but I think that the these cases are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Oh man, I worked in a company that did this... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26635541)

Oh man, I worked in a company that did this all the time - positive reviews submitted by employees of the company on various sites, posing as customers of the company. It is a successful and respected online company.

The culture of a place can go a long way to convincing employees that this is the normal thing to do, and that it's just a part of doing business in this competitive world. Brings to mind Stanley Milgram's obediance experiments.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment [wikipedia.org]

Bill Hicks taught a bit on that subject. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26636007)

Much of Stanley Milgram's work was mocked through time; even gaining hindsight from the likes of Bill Murray in the movie "Ghost Busters" where he shocks a man for answering the wrong questions (Bobcat Whiley(?)).

The one you describe closely resembles his discussion on the relationship of the recording industry (Satan) with it's Producers and Whor^H^H^H^HArtists. [youtube.com]

Stanley Milgram was just trying to get as many Nazis discharged from war crimes by disqualifying them from willfully "following orders" from superiors to kill or abuse prisoners. He's likely a "coyote" for Project Paperclip, but I can't realy say because much of that is classified material that was blackened-out even in their own records and not anything a FOIA could sanitize.

"Back again, Stanley Milgram? It says here that you are a psychiatrist that wants to help Nazis immigrate to America. I think I can arrange that..."

Re:Oh man, I worked in a company that did this... (1)

pelago (957767) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636599)

Well go on then, what was the name of the company? You're posting anonymously, and it doesn't sound like you still work there.

Many fake reviews are easy to spot (5, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635559)

Just click on the reviewer and see if they have reviewed anything else and if they have, if it's a diverse range of stuff. I remember seeing a set of self-help books get either really poor reviews or really great ones. I clicked on the 5 star reviews and many of the reviewers were either one time reviewers, or they had a history of favorably reviewing a small circle of self-help books from a specific publisher or author. Often within a tight timeframe rather than anything spaced out between reviews.

I'm sure the reverse is true in circumstances, competing manufacturers giving their competitors' products a poor review. With the same tell-tale signs.

Amazon is very attractive to scam in this fashion although I'm sure sites like epinions and others are becoming targets as well. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if there are much more sophisticated systems in place than the ones uncovered lately with Belkin and all. What we have been seeing seems all very amateurish - and considering that, after price, having a good star rating at one of these sites may bring in or cost thousands of sales - I would think some manufacturers have to have departments hired to fill the internet with favorable reviews on amazon and other sites, as well as writing blogs or recommendations on blogs with some amount of finesse. Where their employees actually become believeable characters with a bit of history and diversity - perhaps reviewing the other odd item here and there, just enough to be convincing. In fact, they could make put these characters on file and have them become year long projects that become bit reoccuring players in the marketing process.

Online reviews are flawed (4, Insightful)

hbr (556774) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635709)

If it is true that fake reviews are easy to spot, then it should be possible to get a computer to spot them too, you might think.

I find that online reviews are usually pretty worthless when there are, say, less than 5 contributors. Either the reviews are so good they must be employees, etc, or they are angry diatribes from disgruntled customers.

Try looking at reviews for almost any electrical item (even items you own and know to be good) - what you usually find is that all the reviews will be negative because the users are so angry when their device fails they are motivated to let out their frustration somewhere. On the other hand, when things tick along as normal then they can't be bothered to contribute to an online review system.

That is, of course, for the company shills...

Re:Online reviews are flawed (1)

GWRedDragon (1340961) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636997)

If it is true that fake reviews are easy to spot, then it should be possible to get a computer to spot them too, you might think.

If a computer program attempting to fake human conversation is easy to spot, then it should be possible to get a computer to spot it too! Stupid Amazon, there is simply no excuse for their systems to have not passed a Turing Test yet.

Re:Many fake reviews are easy to spot (2, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635715)

I would be surprised if the marketing companies don't have such pseudo-people already. The could be used for both attack campaigns as well as polishing campaigns and if an ad company had enough clients it would be hard to tell that they weren't a legit reviewer with both positive and negative feedback. Most online reviews tend to be glowing or bottom of the barrel because people who have an average experience with a product are not motivated to provide feedback which would cost them time.

Re:Many fake reviews are easy to spot (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635949)

Don't forget IMDB. Why bother to make a decent movie when you can just pay some shill to astroturf the first "preview" of a mediocre film [imdb.com] ? It's got to be value for money.

Re:Many fake reviews are easy to spot (1)

joss (1346) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636341)

Yeah, often the industry shills dominate the first few pages of reviews.. good example was Forgetting Sarah Marshall, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0800039/usercomments [imdb.com] It's insulting that those dicks are not smart enough to come close to sounding like real people: Kristen Bell plays Sarah Marshall, the iconic ex of the film, but her role sits on the back burner along with the truly hilarious Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to make way for a leading role in Mila Kunis. From the beginning it is clear that her not-too-smart and shallow role of "That 70s Show" didn't follow her to "Forgetting"'s script. Kunis plays Racheal, a hospitality girl for the hotel that "Forgetting" takes place, and subsequently deals with Peter as he tries to get over Sarah Marshall. Her character is intelligent, charismatic, and appreciative of the good in people, a strong juxtaposition to the seemingly.. if that was written by a real person I'm an AI

Re:Many fake reviews are easy to spot (1)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636457)

I have completely given up on imdb.com reviews. In fact for movies I have given up completely on any review.

When I buy a movie I look at three things:

1) Trailer: It needs to look interesting.
2) Storyline: When you look at the DVD you can get an overall gist of the storyline and whether or not it is interesting. Usually storylines are rehashed, but then you think if you are interested in that.
3) Actors/Actresses/Directors: Who is involved in the movie. For example Adam Sandler in my book is a hit or miss. 50 first dates, Zohan were hits, Click a complete miss. But I know what I am getting and will review the trailer and storyline before getting.

Usually with these 3 attributes I can pick movies I like or that my wife likes. Considering that I am a DVD fan I would say only a half dozen movies have been a complete waste of time...

Re:Many fake reviews are easy to spot (1)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636905)

So suppose I start a company in which manufacturers pay me to give good ratings and write positive reviews of their products and negative reviews of their competitors. Now assume I have around a hundred costumers with very diverse products and I construct a few dozen ids for the important sites like Amazon.

Is it possible to detect this?

The way I see it, this would be only detectable if I would use one or only a few IP-adresses. Or if someone would analyse my writings either manual (time consuming and expensive) or automaticaly (if that's already possible)

And considering I thought this up in a few minutes, how many people are doing this already?

Re:Many fake reviews are easy to spot (4, Interesting)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 5 years ago | (#26638369)

Amazon is very attractive to scam in this fashion...

If Amazon is so attractive to scamming, how about some counter-examples? Can anyone suggest a site whose reviews they really trust?

I can think of two. First is cpap.com. Sometime after delivery, they send a couple of reminders asking you to rate the products you bought. Since these are durable medical goods whose performance directly and significantly impacts the lives of the users, we tend to want to say what we think, good or bad. I find the reviews on that site very trustworthy, assuming several are posted and you take the time to read them all.

Next up is Newegg.com. For items with a number of reviews, reading all of them is a darn useful thing. I tend to select the option to read all the reviews and then put them in "worst first" order. Often, an item will get a bad review because of a small percentage of DOAs or if it has some particular flaw that may not apply to me. In those cases, I can ignore the bad reviews and purchase with confidence. Generally, lots of reviews == reviews you can trust, but even the products with just a few reviews can, depending on the quality of the reviews, be successfully differentiated. As an added plus, newegg gives me a fun place to watch fanbois rant and rave.

As a postscript, I've been burned in the oddest venues, too. I once watched a conversation develop on a small web site devoted to an arcane shooting sport. Someone said they had specially adapted carrying cases to sell and posted a picture. Someone else chimed in and said they had bought one and loved it. A few were sold and over the course of the next few weeks, a half-dozen people (all known to me, all people I would run into at meatspace gatherings eventually) posted nice comments. So - I ponied up $65 for one. I would have been willing to pay double for high quality. What I got was something I wouldn't have paid $20 for if I had been able to see it in person. The quality of construction was merely passable. The details of the design were sloppy. I finally concluded that in this intimate setting, people were just unwilling to admit they had been (slightly) cheated. They were unwilling to call the maker out in front of his friends. They were unwilling to tell previous posters that their standards were laughably low. Instead, a sort of groupthink/let's not make any waves/we're all friends here vibe took hold and people wound up wasting money. I thought that was weird at first. Then I realized that I was consciously deciding to not post any comments since I didn't want to badmouth an "extended family in the sport" member and start some useless drama.

Funny dynamic, there.

My point, overall, is that reviews and their usefulness are both better and worse than we expect, often at the same time. Generally, the only way to know for sure if the reviews are any good is to have enough subject matter expertise that you don't need to read the reviews in the first place. Damn shame, that.

My God! (1, Funny)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635651)

There really is a person on this planet named "Goldsteinberg"???

Isn't that kind of, like, overdoing things a bit? Like at least one syllable?

I am not trying to stereotype or anything, but seems to me that would be kind of like having XYY chromosomes...

Re:My God! (2)

MWoody (222806) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635691)

There really is a person on this planet named "Jane Q. Public"???

Isn't that kind of, like, overdoing things a bit? It sounds like some sort of pseudonym, but apparently it's your real name, because it says so right over your post.

Yes but... (0)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635809)

that's not really the same thing, is it?

I mean, my name is Public. I would concede your point if my name were something like Publicopencivic, but it is not.

Re:My God! (5, Funny)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635827)

There really is a person on this planet named "Goldsteinberg"???

Typical American prejudice - you think it's wrong just because someone has an Arab last name.

They should be ashamed! (2, Funny)

Vertana (1094987) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635811)

They went through the trouble of making fake reviews for their product... and failed because they used their real names... I don't even know what to say to that...

"This post was found to be satisfactory and it was delivered on time in great condition!"
      -Vert^H^H^H^HJohny Luser!

How often at slashdot (3, Interesting)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635829)

I have wondered a few times if there is not some of the same effect happening at slashdot. Some comments seem very curious and I typically notice these things when a new product is introduced. I know some people are just fans of certain things like Fords and Chevys , but sometimes it seems like people are purposely attempting to twist opinions. Perhaps everybody else already knows this is true, and I am the fool who just thinks it is possible.

I know quite a few people that do that. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26635841)

This is a normal operating procedure.My ex-boss asked me to make a 5 star rating for him on one site because his legit (if not state-of-the art) anti-spyware program was listed as an adware/spyware provider.

http://www.siteadvisor.com/sites/pcsafe.com

Take a look at the comments. The users "johnatsearching" and "wright" are the from the guy that owns the company. Looking back, he must have made 20 comments to bump up his rankings on the site. He even got his employees into it.

Only one person there mentioned that they were employed by the company. That's sad.

Re:I know quite a few people that do that. (0, Troll)

1mck (861167) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635893)

Was he an asshole? If he was, then it's great if you expose the fucking cocksucker for the fraud that he is! I worked as salesman for a high tech software company, the CEO was the biggest fucking asshole that the world has ever seen, and it took a year, and 3 months before I couldn't take anymore of his shit. Unfortunately, he didn't do anything like what your boss did. If he did, I'd be outing him for the piece of shit that he was...but that's me:-)

Which means (2, Interesting)

kvezach (1199717) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635907)

Amazon et al should use a trust metric, preferably one that deals gracefully with attempts to manipulate it. Perhaps something like Advogato's metric could be used, or the manipulation-resistant [nus.edu.sg] versions of EigenTrust. What metric one may use, it would help decreasing spammers' powers, since they would presumably not be able to integrate themselves as thoroughly into the system, and definitely not do so in the kind of en masse, flooding, way that traditional spammers make use of.

Massimo (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26635913)

The news was posted more than 7 hours ago and noone made a joke about The Carbonite Maneuver? Slashdot is not what it used to be!

re: deceiving the public to enrich themselves (2, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635919)

So? What Pogue has observed is a SYMPTOM of the bigger problem, not the actual problem itself.

This is precisely how American capitalism works. It's utterly Darwinian: any tactic that enriches your survival prospects and doesn't get you drawn and quartered is perfectly fine. I hate to say it, but we made this bed for ourselves with our own particular brands of indoctrination and econo-political dogma. We mixed up a nasty batch of Koolaid and wound up drinking it ourselves. There are hidden costs to this sort of capitalism.

If you really want to put an end to this sort of behavior, we'll have to start by changing our actual collective values and ethics, and then change our messages of indoctrination that we whisper to our children and each other to reflect those new values. We need to get the population sipping a better mix of Koolaid; what we've been drinking for almost a century is pretty toxic. Violent games may not brainwash gamers to become violent, but the sort of subtle indoctrination that every American receives DOES lead to the sort of behavior that Pogue observed.

It will take a true collective effort and consensus in order to end it. Passing a few more kneejerk laws or whatever ain't gonna cure the underlying problem: Darwinian capitalism.

That's what happens when you deregulate (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26636037)

In fact, it will take regulation to correct the problem.

We've all got that selfish streak in us. We're willing to do the right thing in the interests of fairness, but only if we know everyone else is doing the right thing too.

Without regulation and a robust policing of those regulations we cannot have trust in the system. Slowly, little by little, the whole thing begins to break down as each individual sees that not everyone is playing by the rules, then they too set out on their own path using whatever tactics work for them.

Thirty years of deregulation has pretty much woven the problem deep into the system.

Re:That's what happens when you deregulate (2, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636085)

Regulations aren't the same thing as consensus. Regulations are often rammed down the throats of an unwilling and uncooperative populace by a self-interested minority seeking to use those regulations to benefit themselves a bit more than everyone else.

Take intellectual property law and DRM, for instance.

Regulation and yet more laws in a binder already full to bursting is not the solution. Trying to legislate socialistic values leads to something that history has already told us will fail: Communism.

Consumer laws create a level playing field for all (3, Insightful)

zerofoo (262795) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636719)

Fairness and honesty can hardly be called tenets of communism. Laws that enforce fairness and honesty in business practices foster faith in our capitalist system and provide a level playing field for all those that conduct business within the system.

Without laws protecting consumers, the playing field is very much tilted in favor of those with deep legal pockets. Consumer protection laws also force businesses to compete honestly so that the best product at the best price will succeed in the market.

I highly doubt you will find a majority of any population that actually wants businesses to operate dishonestly. Regulations enforcing fairness and honesty ARE consensus.

I find that most people that protest laws protecting consumers usually are the ones trying to game the system to their advantage at the expense of those who could least defend themselves in court.

It's not communism to keep people honest.

Two Types of Regulations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26638389)

One tries to manipulate behavior or mandate behavior. The other type of regulation allows for more transparency on what's going on.

I would like to limit the first type as much as possible, but the second type allows for a free flow of information and better decisions amongst consumers.

Re: deceiving the public to enrich themselves (1)

maztuhblastah (745586) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636215)

Wow. So you've managed to take a story about astroturfing (something which is manipulative, deceitful, and certainly not a good idea by any standards) and spin it into an indication that capitalism is inherently bad.

Fucking bravo. Seriously. That's some DC-worthy spin right there.

Re: deceiving the public to enrich themselves (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636241)

That isn't what I said; I didn't say capitalism was inherently bad. Rather, you've spun my words the way you needed to hear them. Who's the spider now?

the internets (-1, Flamebait)

Buscape (1153545) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635983)

Where some people shouldn't have a say because other ppl cry zomg conflict of interest waaaa. It's a democracy you fascist crybots. Every voice counts the same.

Got the name wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26636211)

It's Goldensteinbergovitz

Interesting...BBB report... (3, Informative)

cyberjock1980 (1131059) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636509)

I looked up Carbonite on the Better Business Bureau. They are BBB accredited with a B+ rating.... Maybe the BBB should be rethinking their scales?

http://reports-boston.bbb.org/Boston/Public/Reports/RR/Report.aspx?i=17194 [bbb.org]

Re:Interesting...BBB report... (1)

mstrong73 (821000) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637415)

Yeah,the BBB rating was one of the reasons I chose them. I would guess this would have to hurt that rating. I will say, I have used the service 3 times now for new computers and it works. So now I have to make a decision to continue using a service that has shown itself to be less than scrupulous or drop a company that I have been very happy with. Just a silly thing for them to do.

Who reads positive reviews? (5, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636549)

I read the negative reviews first. I will read some of the positive reviews but I start at the bottom and if I don't get turned off by them as I work my way up then I will probably buy the item.

Re:Who reads positive reviews? (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636939)

I use a similar technique. I read a few good reviews to make sure there are some good features. If all the good reviews just say 'good product!' I ignore them completely.

Then I start reading bad reviews. If none of the bad reviews mention something that is a show-stopper for me, I start to seriously consider the product.

Honestly, good products are not made by their features, they're made by their lack of problems. I'd rather have a mediocre phone with no drawbacks at all than the newest whiz-bang phone that has issues.

This goes for -all- products. I've used it on computer parts, phones, shoes, toaster ovens... And it's always been successful. Compared to my past purchases of like products (before I started using this system) I am a -lot- happier with my purchases. And some of them have been significantly cheaper, too.

3rd Party Reviews (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#26636833)

Are worthless anyway. If you don't personally know the person, assume its a paid advertisement.

record labels have this down to an ARTFORM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26636963)

in the musiuc biz - where buzz is king, and labels are finally realizing that online marketing is a definitive future heuristic, review spamming is an ART.
    I worked for a few small lables ("noble - indie - in it for the music etc") and the interns were ALL set to blog, hang out in chat forums and praise the artists.
    I can only IMAGINE what a major label with a multimillion dollar marketing budget has set up --> warehouses full of illegal migrant children chained to dumb terminals....

The sky is not falling (1)

GWRedDragon (1340961) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637037)

As long as an educated consumer can still tell the good products from the bad, I say we're fine. Someone who depends solely on one or two glowing reviews on Amazon is not an educated consumer, merely someone going through the motions.

A fool and his money will always be easily parted.

Yeah, crying all the way to the bank, no doubt. (1)

pla (258480) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637105)

These people are gaming the system

Hi, welcome to Earth, please read your orientation guide and let us know if you have any questions - In particular, pay attention to chapter 1, "Everything on this planet evolved to eat you or die trying".


deceiving the public to enrich themselves. They should be deeply ashamed.

All those dollars work pretty well for wiping away their tears of shame...

is this new ? (1)

C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637271)

if you read user reviews for L. Ron Hubbard's books, you'll find dozens of 5 star reviews, all by scientology members.

it's awfull, can be seen as fraud in some cases, and should be the case to start pestering sites like amazon.com to include in their EULA an item requiring full disclosure of any conflicting interest. it'd make a lot easier to prosecute people like these carbonite guys.

Read the bad reviews (1)

coffii (76089) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637467)

I'm probably not unique in this but I always read the bad reviews, it gives you an idea of the limitations of a product, you can then decide if they are limitations you can live with.

There's a market for this stuff, apparently (3, Interesting)

shish (588640) | more than 5 years ago | (#26637513)

The company I work at was approached by a guy; conversation went along the lines of "Hi, you look like a good company, but I've never heard of you or seen advertisements" "We find the 'happy customer' approach to marketing works well enough on its own" "That is good. Say, I have possibility to stimulate communities to talk about [company name]. So, I can help you have all your news and services discussed constantly distinctive features spotlighted, etc by independence observers. The number of positive reviews and mentoring of your company will increase in natural way"

Further mails were then directed to /dev/null, but I wonder how many companies would have taken him up on the offer...

Not even needed (3, Informative)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 5 years ago | (#26638087)

The stupid thing is, it doesn't even need faked reviews - Carbonite is genuinely good. it's got me out of a scrape several times and the ability to go back to older versions of documents is great too. Ermm.. this is starting to sound like I'm being facetious but really, it is good.

Shows the value of the "MSM" (2, Interesting)

guanxi (216397) | more than 5 years ago | (#26638253)

Of course random, unknown people are not trustworthy. While it's trendy to criticize the "MSM" and 'old' media, they do have one essential advantage over crowd-sourced information: MSM publications have a reputation to protect:

1) They are not anonymous. As has often been observed, people are willing to say things anonymously on the Internet that they would never say to anyone's face, or if anyone knew who was speaking.

2) They have an enormous investment in their reputation: Millions (or more) in business, hundreds of jobs, and a reputation that's been built up over decades or more.

3) They have a track record: You know (or can know) the history of their integrity.

Certainly that does not make MSM 100% trustworthy; they are not. But at least when I read David Pogue in the NY Times, for example, I know whom I'm dealing with and I can make a judgment about the chance of and degree to which he might be shilling something.

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