by Arlen Parsa
Update: Belkin’s president responds to The Daily Background’s report here.
(Update: Welcome to Slashdot, Digg, Engadget, Gizmodo readers! The latest is, I’ve heard from Belkin’s public relations department and I am expecting a formal comment to come out from them relatively soon, so stick around as this thing develops.)
I know I usually don’t write about consumer advocacy stuff, but I came across this just recently and it’s pretty beyond the pale and I couldn’t let it go without blogging about it. Here’s the scoop.
Amazon.com runs a side business called Mechanical Turk. It’s a site where people can go, register, and get paid to do little tasks that computers can’t do (like help image filtering software identify graphic search results for example). Users can do any one of thousands of tasks provided by requesters, who pay them a small amount of money in return (usually anywhere between one cent and a couple dollars per task).
I was checking out this website the other day and I made a few bucks by hand-transcribing a few videos. But then I came across this:
That’s a request from somebody named Mike Bayard to review a product and “give [it] a 100% rating (as high as possible).” It doesn’t matter if the reviewer doesn’t own the product or has never tried it– the requester has helpfully written, “Write as if you own the product and are using it.” It even goes a step further, asking the Mechanical Turk user to “Mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” once you post yours.”
Users are paid 65 cents for every positive review they leave. There are dozens of these requests from this Mike Bayard guy on Mechanical Turk.
Sounds like somebody reallllllllly wants this item to get high ratings. So what is the product? The link is to an Amazon.com listing for a Belkin router which has consistently gotten bad reviews in the past from users who say that the product is “loaded with Bugs, goes on & off whenever it feels like, and comes at a hefty price.”
So, who is this Mike Baynard guy, and why is he willing to pay people to rate up these apparently poor quality Belkin routers? I’ll give you just one guess:
Yep, that’s right, according to his LinkedIn profile, Bayard is the Business Development Representative at Belkin International in charge of “Sales of Belkin products to major .com accounts such as Amazon.com.” In other words, this guy is paying people to post fake good reviews of his own products which, according to most people who actually use them, suck (and ironically, he’s using Amazon’s own service to screw up their own review system).
They shouldn’t get away with this. Bayard has also been paying people to post fake reviews on Buy.com and Newegg. Faking reviews is not only against Amazon.com’s Terms of Service, it’s also highly unethical and misleading. Amazon should reset its ratings for this product, and Belkin should discipline or fire this Mr Bayard, ASAP. This is one of the more scummy, totally awful advertising schemes I’ve seen. Tell Amazon and Belkin to read this blog entry and act accordingly.
Send Belkin the link to this blog entry in a quick email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Send Amazon the link to this blog entry in a quick email here.
Update: Sorry if my website was acting sluggish for you earlier. After getting some attention from the tech gurus at Gizmodo and Slashdot, my poor little virtual dedicated server just about collapsed so I had to request a power cycle which led to a couple of minutes of complete non-responsiveness. But things should now be back to normal. Good thing it worked too– I hear a certain newspaper columnist with a lot of clout in the tech world just might be mentioning this in a blog post, which could get Belkin or Amazon to respond. Stay tuned…
Update 2: Several other high profile tech blogs have picked up this story (see the comments section for a bunch of big name trackbacks). I just checked out Mr Bayard’s Mechanical Turk requests and, surprise surprise, as of 5:12PM EST they’ve all disappeared. This might be because A) people have already fulfilled all his requests and thus they have vanished, or B) because he heard about our reporting and got scared. Which is it? I honestly have no idea. We’ll see if any more information comes my way…
Update 3: I’m waiting on a reply from Belkin. See the latest on this here.