For the first time in its 20-year history, Amazon has sued operators of Web sites that allegedly create and sell phony reviews.
“A very small minority of sellers and manufacturers attempts to gain unfair competitive advantages by creating false, misleading, and inauthentic customer reviews for their products on Amazon.com,” the ecommerce company alleges in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in King County Superior Court in Washington. “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 lawsuit targets operators of four sites (buyazonreviews.com, buyamazonreviews.com, bayreviews.net and buyreviewsnow.com) that allegedly sell fake reviews.
Amazon alleges that those individuals -- all unknown, except for Jay Gentile, who allegedly serves as CEO of buyazonreviews.com -- infringe the company's trademark and violate other laws, including one involving cybersquatting.
The company bases some of its allegations on a conversation between a “customer” and buyazonreviews.com's Gentile. During that conversation, Gentile allegedly “promised to provide as many five-star reviews as the purchaser wanted,” and also “promised to 'slow drip' them onto the product pages so that Amazon would have a more difficult time detecting them.”
He allegedly “further explained that the reviewers at buyazonreviews.com do not actually need to receive the products they are reviewing, and the purchaser could simply ship empty packages in an effort to fool Amazon into believing the reviewer was a 'verified purchaser.'”
Amazon adds that buyazonreviews.com “delivered glowing five-star reviews (as well as one four-star review as requested by the customer) on a product they never received.”
For instance, one verified purchaser of a USB cable -- who never actually received the product -- allegedly gave it a five-star rave: “Such a cool product. I was so happy with how bright the lights on the cable are. It shipped super fast. The light shuts off when the charging is complete, so that’s super helpful. I don’t have to keep checking.”
Amazon isn't the only one to go to court over fake reviews. Earlier this year, Yelp sued three Web site operators who allegedly tout their ability to help business owners improve their reviews. That matter is pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.