Can Amazon lawsuit stop fake reviews?

Amazon has filed a lawsuit against over 1,000 users who allegedly offered to post fake reviews for payment. The potential for online reviews to affect a company's bottom line has led to a wide array of issues in recent years, including legal action over bogus or negative reviews. 

Mark Lennihan/AP/File
The Amazon.com logo is displayed at a news conference in New York (2011).

Amazon is taking another crack at eliminating fake reviews. This time, through litigation aimed at individuals, not businesses.

The online retail giant is taking legal action against over 1,000 unidentified reviewers, who Amazon says have been offering fake review writing services for money – some for as little as $5 per review.

The lawsuit follows an  investigation conducted by Amazon itself. Undercover Amazon employees went to Fiverr, an online marketplace for individuals seeking to sell services to others, and looked for offers to write fake Amazon reviews. The Amazon investigators would contact the potential reviewers and even hired several of them.

According to Geekwire, Fiverr user “bess98” offered to write from various computers to avoid detection by Amazon. “Verifiedboss,” another user offered fake reviews for money, asked Amazon's investigators to write reviews themselves and send them to him or her.

“Defendants are misleading Amazon’s customers and tarnishing Amazon’s brand for their own profit and the profit of a handful of dishonest sellers and manufacturers,” Amazon's complaint reads.

The lawsuit refers to the alleged reviewers as John Does, as their identities are unknown outside of online usernames. Fiverr.com, the online market place where many of the review services were offered, is not a target of the lawsuit.

“We have worked closely together to remove services that violate our terms of use, and respond promptly to any reports of inappropriate content,” Fiverr Spokesman Channing Barringer told Bloomberg.

This isn't  the first legal action Amazon has taken against fake reviews. The company filed a similar lawsuit in April 2015 against “BuyAmazonReviews.com” and other similarly named sites, seeking to shut them down.

Online reviews are now widely utilized throughout the online retail and service industries. Even physical stores and restaurants are impacted by what customers and individuals post about them online. A Harvard study showed that an increase in a rating on Yelp corresponded with an increase in revenue for a company, according to Forbes. A one-star increase resulted in a 5 to 9 percent increase in revenue. 

The potential for such large financial impact from reviews has given way various problems, including bogus online feedmack, and  prompted myriad lawsuits for false or negative reviews on Yelp!, Angie’s List, Amazon, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

In March, after an underwhelming experience with a dog obedience class, Virginian Jennifer Ujimori posted negative reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List. The company, Dog Tranquility, responded with a defamation lawsuit for $65,000.

“I do not believe a customer imagines that typing out a review of their experience followed by a few clicks can result in getting slapped with a $65,000 lawsuit,” said Jonathan Phillips, Ujimori’s attorney, to the Washington Post. 

Still, there is somewhat of a cottage industry building around online reviews that are bogus or, at minimum, a tad hyperbolic. A slew of Tumblrs and websites are dedicated to finding and glorifying the best and funniest reviews online, for example. Those, combined with users and sites profiting off fake posts, are part of what Amazon called a thriving “unhealthy ecosystem” of online reviews. 

Host sites themselves, however, aren't free of accusations of foul play when it comes to online reviews. A class-action lawsuit from August 2014 alleged that Yelp required small businesses to pay to cover up negative reviews on its site. 

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