By Kim Lachance Shandrow
Beware peddlers of lies. Amazon (AMZN) is officially cracking down on phony product reviews. The ecommerce juggernaut not only forbids them on its site, it contends that they’re illegal, too.
Case in point: The company filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in Seattle’s King County Superior Court against four websites it alleges publish fraudulent reviews that distort its product ratings.
The move, which looks to be a first for Amazon, telegraphs the company’s intensifying intolerance for fake positive reviews louder and clearer than ever before. The suit alleges that fabricated 4- and 5-star product appraisals dilute Amazon’s brand and negatively impact sellers on its site who don’t subvert the system by paying for fraudulent reviews.
“While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand,” the suit states. “Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews. Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews.”
The high-profile suit, clearly intended as a warning to fraudsters, was filed against California resident Jay Gentile, who allegedly runs buyazonreviews.com, and unidentified “John Does 1-20,” the alleged proprietors behind “buyamazonreviews.com,” “bayreviews.net” and “buyreviewsnow.com.”
Amazon has accused the defendants of a laundry list of alleged crimes, including violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, as well as of false advertising and trademark infringement (i.e. – displaying Amazon’s logo and using domain names that are “confusingly similar” to Amazon’s).
Mark Collins, who The Seattle Times reports owns buyamazonreviews.com (which the suit says is run by Gentile, though Collins claims to have never heard of him), says the service he provides is not illegal. Collins claims buyamazonreviews.com merely assists third-party Amazon sellers in amassing reviews. “We are not selling fake reviews,” he told the Times. “However we do provide Unbiased and Honest review on all the products. And this is not illegal at all.”
Amazon, which hasn’t yet issued a public statement addressing the lawsuit, did not immediately responded to a request for comment.
Fake glowing reviews, intended to boost consumer confidence and in turn hopefully heighten sales, have long been a problem for Amazon and other popular websites, like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Interestingly, the inaugural Amazon customer review was of the “The Butter Battle Book” by Dr. Seuss. That was all of 20 years ago. Now, as Amazon jockeys to legally “butter-side-up” alleged sellers of inauthentic reviews “to small smithereens,” the 1984 rhyming war battle yarn seems an apropos first recipient of an Amazon customer assessment.
If Amazon wins this war in court, it will receive triple damages and attorney fees and, more importantly, the alleged fraudsters will be forced to quit hawking Amazon reviews and to suspend use of the company’s name and logo.
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