Would Amazon and Google benefit from publishing fake consumer reviews?

Discussion
Photo: @malisunshine via Twenty20; Source: Amazon.com
Jun 23, 2020
George Anderson

It doesn’t sound right, but new research says that sites that collect consumer reviews on businesses and products should leave fake ones untouched.

Results from a study“A Tangled Web: Should Online Review Portals Display Fraudulent Reviews?” — from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington published in the Information Systems Research journal show that 85 percent of consumers would like a choice in deciding if they want to incorporate fake review information into their decision-making when it comes to businesses and products.

“We find consumers have more trust in the information provided by review portals that display fraudulent reviews alongside nonfraudulent reviews, as opposed to the common practice of censoring suspected fraudulent reviews,” said Beibei Li, Anna Loomis McCandless chair and associate professor of IT and management at Carnegie Mellon. “The impact of fraudulent reviews on consumers’ decision-making process increases with the uncertainty in the initial evaluation of product quality.”

The research points to the critical role that reviews play in purchasing decisions, with 97 percent of consumers consulting reviews at some point when deciding what and when to buy. The growing role of reviews has brought with it an increase in fake ones. Prof. Li cites industry and media reports that show fraudulent reviews make up between 15 and 30 percent of all those posted.

The study points to the different approaches that various platforms have taken to address fake reviews. Google deletes them, Amazon.com censors them and Yelp publishes them with a notation that they may be faked.

Using “large-scale” Yelp data, 80 percent of respondents in the survey said they trust platforms that leave and call out potential fakes because they believe the practice makes businesses less likely to try and rig the system. Fake reviewers are, in essence, called out for cheating for all to see on the review page.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How significant a role do you think business and product reviews play in purchasing decisions? Do you agree that online platforms such as Amazon and Google would benefit more by publishing and calling out fake reviews rather than censoring them?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I rely heavily on reviews and I trust them to be authentic. Posting reviews that are known to be fraudulent offers no value to the consumer."
"Bezos is going to Mars and yet Amazon in 20 plus years as a retailer has not cracked the code to identify fake reviews?"
"Publishing fake reviews is absolutely unacceptable, and will take away from these platforms trust and credibility they have built over the years."

Join the Discussion!

27 Comments on "Would Amazon and Google benefit from publishing fake consumer reviews?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
David Leibowitz
BrainTrust

If they publish AND call out the fake reviews, then the practice stands to nurture trust in the platform by consumers. Even if they don’t catch all of the offending commentary, a demonstrable effort should appeal to shoppers who may regard reviews with healthy skepticism.

It’s a little easier to fake Yelp reviews – anyone can post a poor (or glowing) restaurant critique.

What I’d like to see more of is “validated purchase” reviews where only those who have actually bought and PAID for the product are featured.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Yelp gives the ability to see “other reviews that are not currently recommended.” It makes sense.

Reviews can also be marked with other indicators – verified purchase (which Amazon already does), likely fake, influenced by seller, etc.
The platforms have their own interest in ensuring the trust. We already see when reviews on a seller’s website are very likely inflated/fake.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Verified purchase DOES NOTHING to validate a review. It validates a purchase and many gamers of the system pay associates to “purchase” an item so they can “legitimize” their fake reviews.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

“Does nothing” is an opinion. It is better than an unverified purchase — again, in my opinion.

When verified purchases are gamed as you suggest, it can also be tagged as “suspect” or “potentially fake.” Verified and Fake are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately, the platform has to do what it can to earn trust.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The core problem is that platforms don’t detect when they are being gamed or possibly, know and don’t do much about it. Amazon specifically has terms against it, yet (as with fake merchandise) and despite some progress, they are woefully insufficient at stopping it. So mutual exclusivity is irrelevant.

Gregory Osborne
BrainTrust

This really all comes down to brand and platform credibility. Because nearly all consumers engage with reviews at some point, and because platforms and brands have manipulated reviews for far too long, consumers have grown weary of review boards filled only with 5-star reviews. Though fake reviews distort the market and potentially undercut a market fundamental–the study indicates that instead of misleading consumers, they are a sign to consumers that the brand or platform has not censored the review page, granting even more credibility to the good reviews. However, it seems the best way for platforms to have their cake and eat it too is to mark fraudulent reviews as fraudulent. This way they maintain credibility while diminishing the misleading effect of fake reviews.

Stephen Rector
BrainTrust

Reviews are a critical part of the buying process for many consumers – therefore, fake reviews should be deleted or called out so the customer can make the most informed decision.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Reviews are important to shoppers. They may not be the primary driver of the purchase decision, but they are often a factor in brand or product selection or in nudging a customer to buy. Flagging fake reviews is an interesting option that may work on some platforms. The main thing is to be transparent about how reviews are handled and to ensure that customers can trust what they are reading. If fake reviews are left on sites, it would be good to have the option to filter them out or exclude them to make viewing easier.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Like many consumers, I rely heavily on reviews and I trust them to be authentic. Posting reviews that are known to be fraudulent offers no value to the consumer.

Deleting fake reviews saves customers time and potentially money by preventing them from having to send back products that do not work as promised. Calling out potential fakes just clutters the feed. Who has the time to wade through fake reviews when you are trying to make a purchase?

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

So now we are trying to make “fake reviews” (fake news?) a good and acceptable and even desirable thing? How will they/we know they are fake? How can we be sure that all fake reviews will be caught? What ever happened to clarity, truth telling, transparency? When does “fake” become fraudulent? How about if you lie you get booted off the site? Somehow “fake” doesn’t sound as bad as telling an outright lie with intent to deceive. And research tells us that’s a good thing. I don’t get it.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

This decision is pretty straightforward. Reviews are an important part of the consumer decision making process. Consumers want fake reviews left in but called out. There may be a time when “information overload” kicks in for consumers. At such time, review sites should consider more censorship options, particularly in light of 15 percent to 30 percent of posts being fake. But for now leave them in and call them out.

Jason Goldberg
BrainTrust
Ratings and reviews (and more generally social proof) are at or near the top of most consumers’ decision trees. Reviews are among the most important attributes in influencing purchase decisions. As such, research on best practices is evolving rapidly. In the early days of reviews some manufacturers filtered out negative reviews, leaving only the best reviews on their site. Consumers quickly caught on to this practice and voted with their wallets for more trustworthy sites. Today there is a large body of evidence that consumers actively want to see negative reviews and that their presence acts as a “trust symbol” for the entire review system. Increasingly, fake reviews are a significant concern. Per the findings of this study, it may be that publishing and (importantly) labeling the reviews as fake may serve as another trust symbol for authenticity (this site is policing it’s reviews), and as a deterrent to bad actors — publicly shaming those that it catches. However, I’d be careful about blindly following the study’s advice. The study was conducted in 2014. A… Read more »
Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

What a wild paradox.

Fake reviews clutter consumer decision-making by exaggerating benefits and editing inconvenient truths. Yet leaving the reviews up and calling them out publicly shames anyone trying to scam the system.

This transparent approach is influential because online reviews directly affect brand trust, sales and internal morale. It could persuade shady players to rethink their efforts to manipulate their public reputation.

That’s why Amazon and Google may want to consider all their options to protect consumers from fraudulent products and companies.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Reviews can play a strong role in a customer’s purchase decision especially if it is for a product or service that they are unfamiliar with. They can support or counterbalance the information the service supplier or the manufacturer provides.

Any information that indicates the validity of the review is helpful. If no review is called out by the site the customers are left to decide if they should trust any or all of the reviews.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

If it’s really “fake” then it just shouldn’t be published. Why give fraud any visibility at all?

Trinity Wiles
Guest

Reviews are a form of “social proof,” which is a selling tactic in itself. Reviews have a significant enough impact on decision making. As consumers demand more transparency from companies, I think Amazon and Google will benefit more from flagging fake reviews than just censoring them. Flagging shows a certain level of transparency and that due diligence is being done to weed out bad actors.

Chuck Ehredt
Guest
To answer the first question, reviews are very important – and increasingly so as we buy more items online without seeing or touching them before the purchase is made. Negative reviews are as important as positive ones – or including a mix for the same item because they can dissuade purchases that would have been costly to resolve if the product does not live up to the description. A customer´s loyalty to a brand is based largely on trust. How that trust is earned can be implemented differently by each brand, but I don´t think you can earn trust if you knowingly publish fake reviews and don´t call them out. So I think a brand should delete the ones they know are fake and flag those they suspect may be fake. However, this issue is going to become harder to manage as AI and chatbots become smarter and frequently outsmart the AI that is trying to spot the fake reviews. I think the stronger the authentication of the account from which reviews are posted, the… Read more »
Scott Benedict
Guest

I cannot say this strongly enough; publishing fake reviews — anytime, anywhere — is a horribly bad idea. Consumers MUST have confidence in what they are reading and seeing on any platform. Fake reviews in any context are a bad idea that damages the credibility of all reviews, everywhere.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

E-commerce purchase decisions are especially influenced by online reviews. However, as we have seen the trust and transparency we expect to see on Amazon, Google, and other sites has diminished somewhat with the increased amount of fake or biased reviews.

Without the benefit of a physical store/showroom, and a knowledgeable store associate to help influence the purchase decision, our first instinct is to read the product reviews and then make our own assessment if we want the product or not. Publishing fake reviews is absolutely unacceptable, and will take away from these platforms trust and credibility they have built over the years. There is zero business benefit to this.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust
When 95 percent of customers are reading reviews before making a purchase, this cannot be ignored. The real question is whether policing these reviews is important for platforms. Reviews increase the 5 percent — 9 percent revenue bump for retailers for every star on a product. These dollars are substantial and hence there is certainly motivation to post fake reviews. Censorship is best because the motivations and actors take time to filter out. The platforms like Google and Amazon spend money on tracking tools and manpower to identify and censor these fake reviews. Reviews can be good or bad as even bad reviews increase revenue. By putting fake reviews and reviewers out in the open, the platforms can add more credibility – but this opens up the ability for bad actors to come in and post fake “good” reviews on behalf of a competitor – to specifically have the competitors be stigmatized where customers no longer trust the reviews – good or bad. The best course is censorship and private warnings to retailers on these… Read more »
Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust
I imagine this is a “transparency” conversation, which is important. That being said, what? Of course, reviews should be real. By marking some of the reviews as fake or possibly fake places doubt in the consumer and raises the question, why do I as a consumer have to spend my time determining whether the product review is true, possibly true, or truly fake? Or are Amazon and Google just playing mind games with consumers to get more products sold by creating review confusion to close a sale on a product a consumer already has an interest in purchasing? Either way, a lame way out for both Google and Amazon, by subscribing to the practice of shifting their responsibility as merchants to their consumers. Come on, who can truly believe Google and Amazon have not developed software to identify fake reviews? Bezos is going to Mars and yet Amazon in 20 plus years as a retailer has not cracked the code to identify fake reviews? In light of this discussion, now is a good time to… Read more »
Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Cynthia, although we can’t expect any platform to be 100%, you have encapsulated the review “problem” eloquently:

“Come on, who can truly believe Google and Amazon have not developed software to identify fake reviews? Bezos is going to Mars and yet Amazon in 20 plus years as a retailer has not cracked the code to identify fake reviews? In light of this discussion, now is a good time to suspend disbelief, avoid logic, and forget critical thinking.”

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

More than anything else, I think this survey confirms that what people say and what they actually want/do is quite different. Oh sure there are plenty of people out there who see themselves as would-be Columbo’s, gleaning intelligence from fake reviews, but the reality is, 4 out of 5 (5 out of 5? Heck, maybe 6 out of 5) would be screaming louder than Howard Beale when (not “if”) they get taken in.

At the same time, people are suspicious — sometimes justifiably so — when they are told info has been withheld, so the solution, methinks, is to identify what doesn’t meet clearly defined criteria and quietly remove it; let the tin-foil hat brigade say what they will.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Looks like more research where the researchers asked questions the respondents didn’t understand. When a review is a known fake, I can’t imagine any situation where a customer isn’t well served by Amazon or Google hiding that review.

In fact, my first response was that this research was sponsored by the bloggers and content providers who make millions using fake reviews to drive people to Amazon, Google, and to marketer websites.

The research around shiny new baubles like online reviews has been very poorly done throughout the history of the internet. Guess marketers have no one to blame but ourselves for relying on research like this.

(I think RetailWire does an important service bringing it to our attention. Thanks!)

Xavier Lederer
BrainTrust

It is interesting to note that Google, Amazon, and Yelp all monitor reviews themselves instead of relying on a neutral, trusted third party. Considering the importance of reviews in purchasing decisions, and considering the potential negative impact on their reputation if consumers had the impression that some sites had more fake reviews than others (regardless whether this was true or not), a different business model could have emerged. Organizations like the Better Business Bureau or JD Power could have risen to the occasion and could have developed capabilities as the experts in checking reviews’ credibility, across all platforms.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

No. Publishing fake reviews is akin to deceiving your customers and questioning the veracity of the product being mentioned, as well as the manufacturer, and of course the web retailer. Reviews should be edited to maintain a high level of truth, and reinforce an ethical position for the website as well.

Rodger Buyvoets
BrainTrust

Ninety-three percent of consumers say reviews affect their purchase decisions. Reviews are super important but, of course, dependent on the product. A t-shirt may not have many reviews, while running shoes or electronics are important to see other people’s experiences. Fake reviews, on the other hand, don’t provide any customer value, but Amazon and Google shouldn’t censor them. Instead they should call out the fake ones so consumers have the autonomy to ignore them or not. Twitter does this well – flagging posts for sensitive content while making it up to the user to decide if they want to see it or not.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I rely heavily on reviews and I trust them to be authentic. Posting reviews that are known to be fraudulent offers no value to the consumer."
"Bezos is going to Mars and yet Amazon in 20 plus years as a retailer has not cracked the code to identify fake reviews?"
"Publishing fake reviews is absolutely unacceptable, and will take away from these platforms trust and credibility they have built over the years."

Take Our Instant Poll

Do you agree that online platforms would benefit more by publishing and calling out fake reviews rather than censoring them?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...