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Today I want to talk about a semi-mysterious purge of products on Amazon. Buyers likely didn’t notice, but these evictions say a lot about untrustworthy internet reviews and showcase both the power and limitations of Amazon.
As I researched this, I felt (again) that it is stressful not to be scammed or manipulated online, and our favorite internet destinations are not doing enough to keep us safe. Let me explain what happens.
Who was evicted?
About three weeks ago, some big brands were suddenly kicked out of Amazon.
Most people would not recognize the names of the more than a dozen Chinese companies that have disappeared, such as Mpow and Aukey. But these two sell a large number of electronic devices like phone chargers and external smartphone batteries. If you hit the “Buy” button on the first phone charger or wireless headphones you saw on Amazon, it might be from one of these now-banned retailers.
It’s rare for Amazon to launch a retailer that sells that much, but the company hasn’t said exactly why it made the move. However, experts on how Amazon works believe the sellers have been punished for manipulating customer reviews. And some of the company’s public statements – this helpful one is in Chinese – seems to bear this out.
It is against Amazon’s rules to pay people for radiant feedback. But it is also an open secret that purchased or otherwise played reviews on Amazon and many other websites are common.
An Amazon representative said the company “works tirelessly to protect the integrity of customer reviews and we will continue to innovate to ensure customers can be confident that every review on Amazon is authentic and relevant.” I tried to contact a few of the suspended traders as well, but couldn’t get in touch.
Why is this important to us? I will answer my question with two more questions.
Can we trust online feedback when the system is so easy to play?
One of the internet’s big selling points is that we can gain the wisdom of the crowd before we see a movie, eat in a restaurant, or buy a product. However, there are so many ways to scam online reviews that it is difficult to trust.
If some of Amazon’s top sellers have tampered with customers’ impressions of their products, it shows how widespread the problem is. Presumably, Amazon is watching large retailers more closely than fly-by-night companies that don’t sell a lot. And there’s a good chance these suspended companies have been cheating on reviews for a long time, told me Juozas Kaziukėnas, founder of e-commerce research firm Marketplace Pulse.
That means some people have been tricked into buying junk products and vendors who obeyed the rules have been outdone by those who don’t. In short, incorrect reviews hurt us and made Amazon a worse place to shop.
Has Amazon caught merchants or was it pressured?
There are two ways to see what Amazon did. The first is that Amazon is not afraid to penalize companies that move lots of goods to protect buyers from being misled.
The less non-profit view is that Amazon appears to have ignored the problem for a long time. And it’s not clear that Amazon discovered the problem itself.
The Vox Recode publication reported that pressure from the Federal Trade Commission resulted in at least one of the seller’s suspensions. A computer security recommendation website recently uncovered a database of Amazon merchants organizing payments for about 13 million glowing reviews. This disclosure was made shortly before the Amazon bans were enacted.
So what now?
I understand if you don’t want to know how the online shopping sausage is made. Most of the time, it’s okay to buy things from Amazon and other reputable websites. (If you want to better protect yourself, here are some tips on how to shop safely and reliably.)
Kaziukėnas also suggested that it might be time to stop using reviews as a focal point to gauge other people’s opinions about a product or service. “It’s the internet,” he said. “Nothing is real on the internet.”
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nicer if we could click “Buy” more securely without worrying about being misled? Shouldn’t we ask more of Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Rotten Tomatoes to make sure their feedback is as trustworthy and transparent as possible? We shouldn’t have to put up with fakes and scams.
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Before we go …
Ugh, so much crime: Insurance giant CNA Financial paid a record $ 40 million to pay off criminals who locked their computer networks down in a ransomware attack, Bloomberg News reported. And my colleagues Nicole Perlroth and Adam Satariano wrote that the Irish healthcare system was being transported back to the 1970s due to a ransomware attack.
When romance means haggling pajamas: A Chinese social media influencer promised his followers a live webcast of his wedding proposal. Instead, it was a five-hour home shopping show. This has exceeded the limit even for many Chinese Internet users who expect product advertising with their entertainment, writes my colleague Tiffany May.
Is the nostalgia going too far? NO! “Space Jam came at a time when the Internet was still whispering its promise.” This is an odd and lovable tribute to the clunky old website for a ridiculous 90s sports movie.
The Durham Bulls Minor League baseball team tweeted a photo of a dog in a tiny hat. It’s gorgeous. So the answers were with MORE DOGS (and a happy looking reptile) wearing hats.
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