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Fake-review purge: Facebook boots 188 groups, eBay bans 140 shills

After a poke from the UK's watchdog, the companies promised to beef up filters to strain out those who write, buy and sell fluffy nonsense.

You guys are hosting a thriving marketplace for shills, charlatans and sockpuppets, the UK’s watchdog told Facebook and eBay in June 2019, after finding over 100 eBay listings selling fake reviews and 26 Facebook groups offering to buy or sell them.
We’re on it, the two platforms said in response to the poke from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). On Wednesday, the CMA announced that both tech behemoths have pledged to fight the trade in fake/misleading reviews and that they’ve both already made good on that pledge.
Specifically, Facebook has booted 188 groups and yanked 24 user accounts, while eBay has permanently banned 140 users.
Both of the US companies have also agreed to institute measures to help prevent faux reviews, or the buying/selling of them, from appearing in the future. For its part, Facebook says it plans to introduce more robust systems to detect and remove such content, while eBay says it’s beefed up its existing filters to better identify and block listings for the sale or trade of bunk.
What’s up next: Instagram fluff.
The CMA says that after sussing out Facebook and eBay fake reviews, the watchdog went on to discover a trade in bogusness on Instagram. Parent company Facebook has committed to looking into the issue, and the CMA says it will be looking for a commitment from Facebook to do something about these things as they arise in the future.

On Wednesday, the CMA reiterated what it said in June: that it doesn’t think the companies are intentionally letting the content appear on their platforms. It’s also mighty pleased that they’re taking this seriously.
Here’s a statement from Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of CMA:

Fake reviews are really damaging to shoppers and businesses alike. Millions of people base their shopping decisions on reviews, and if these are misleading or untrue, then shoppers could end up being misled into buying something that isn’t right for them – leaving businesses who play by the rules missing out.
We’re pleased that Facebook and eBay are doing the right thing by committing to tackle this problem and helping to keep their sites free from posts selling fake reviews.

Oh, and by the way? You better strap on your seatbelts, review sites: part of the CMA’s task at hand is to suss you out, too.
That will surprise absolutely nobody, given the exasperation that’s been expressed over say, TripAdvisor, for one. Remember the #noreceiptnoreview campaign from 2015? The one where people asked the mega-popular review site to insist on screenshots of receipts before approving new reviews?
That campaign was started by a restauranteur. Sure, people care about reviews, but businesses live or die on them. There have been a bunch of studies looking at how big a difference those little stars can make: According to one from Harvard Business School, a one-point improvement in a restaurant’s score on Yelp could boost its revenue by as much as 5-9%… while a one-star decrease could lead to a 5% revenue sag.

How to sniff out BS, shills, sockpuppets and charlatans

Hyperventilating, marketing-speak, multiple copy-paste reviews that are all exactly the same: those are only some of a long list of “this is dross!” give-aways. Here are a few actual reviews spotted in the wild and posted by Consumerist on its dated-but-still-useful list of 30 telltale signs:

Guacamole like my grandmother in Mexico used to make! Sure it was a little pricey, but worth every penny due to the large portion sizes and excellent service!
I had so much fun at happy hour, so many beautiful ladies! Spilled my margarita all over my shirt, and a gorgeous bartender dabbed it up for me and gave me a fresh one, on the house. I’m going back next week to see her again!

So positive! So detailed! So written by the same email address, one right after another, along with 10-12 others, as revealed by a site glitch!
As we’ve said before, watch out for extreme language, excess jargon straight out of a marketing or technical manual, or lack of detail about exactly why something’s uber fabulous or ultra lame. Also, if you’re looking for a hotel, in particular, you can run reviews through Review Skeptic: it’s an analyzer based on Cornell University research that uses machine learning to identify fake hotel reviews with nearly 90% accuracy.


Here are a few actual reviews spotted in the wild and posted by Consumerist on its dated-but-still-useful list of 30 telltale signs:
The link in the original of the above quote seems to bounce to – (and for those of us still in the EU, an “EU notice”)


Yes, we pulled out some example reviews into the article but as the Consumerist site says if you follow the link, some of its consumer reports aren’t available for users in the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
Most of our users are outside that area so the link will work for most of the people who read this article. Like you, I am unable to browse to it directly from the UK using Firefox or Chrome but was able to view it using the Tor browser.


One review. You mention 30 tell tale signs, don’t say what they are, and give a link which is blocked in the UK. Poor.


What about Amazon? Seems odd it wasn’t included in this since Amazon fake reviews are an industry in themselves.


Some of Amazon’s reviews are not just dubious but Amazon’s database management is seriously suspect.
On some pages they group products (sometimes only vaguely related) but the reviews are all aggregated together to give a sometime irrelevant star rating.
One of the less severe examples I had was where a camera was available with a number of lens options. The kit lens is genuinely recognised (by photo dealers etc) as rubbish, but there were some quality lens options on the same page. The rating for the camera appeared to be poor, but if you went through all the reviews (I had too much time!), the bad reviews related to those who had bought it with the cheap kit lens, those with the better lenses were good!
The problem also applies to the questions – you get some that look very odd – until you realise that they were asked about a completely different product!
Marketplace (3rd party) sales through Amazon are also a problem (not just from some fairly blatantly pumping the supplier) but also because the supplier reviews are meant to be of the supplier not the product!
But “curation” is not Amazon’s strong point – just look at their classical music offerings; they confuse composers and performers and they don’t recognise the concept of a classical “work” – they seem to think that “allegro” is a “song” that a lot of composers had a go at and not a tempo marking! It is so inconsistent that I think it is ignorance by those entering the product details – not bad AI!
Rather undermines your trust – but they don’t make it easy to complain!


This article, like the CMA actions it cites, is about the buying and selling of fake reviews, not the reviews themselves. I’m not aware of any trading in reviews on Amazon; although I can’t rule out the possibility, it seems unlikely.


Trustpilot contacted me to tell me my latest review was called into question, and could I please confirm that I’d received the goods / services… When I confirmed, they wanted communications between me and the vendor, my payment card number, phone number email address (which they already have), and some photo ID. I had to tell them I couldn’t care less.


Its not just fake product reviews that are a problem at ebay, but fake seller feedback as well. I caught wind of just how rampant the issue was after clicking thru to view feedback profiles of users of the platform’s forums. Often, sellers will create multiple accounts, then make dozens of transactions between them, then use those transactions to leave tons of positive feedback between each of their own accounts.
They do this to make their accounts look trustworthy to unsuspecting buyers, and to help drown out prior negatives they received from previous transactions.
They also do it to circumvent ebay’s service metrics, which determine a given seller’s account standing. When buyers make a purchase, ebay asks those buyers to rate sellers on things like communication, shipping costs, etc. By creating fake feedback, sellers are then able to improve their account standings, even if they aren’t following the rules and are offering their customers terrible service.
On ebay, product reviews are irrelevant when it comes to seller’s account standing on the platform, they do not negatively affect sellers the same way feedback does.
ebay has done nothing to alleviate the situation at all.
The sellers doing this make themselves incredibly obvious too; such as having a seller make dozens of purchases from multiple other seller accounts, then go into the forums and complain about how slow their business is and how they aren’t making any money.
What gives them away is the fact they’re complaining about how bad business is, yet they’re purchasing thousands of dollars of merchandise from other seller accounts, which they obviously operate themselves. They’re essentially just shuffling their own money between accounts, then funneling it back to themselves.


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