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Belkin in "astroturfing" furore

Belkin in "astroturfing" furore

The job listings on Amazon's Mechanical Turk - posted by Belkin's Mike Bayard - ask for people to write false five-star reviews on Belkin products.

Electronics manufacturer Belkin has found itself at the centre of a public relations furore with the news that the company has been hiring people to write false 5-star reviews of its products on shopping websites.

First spotted by The Daily Background – via Engadget – the evidence comes in the form of a posting on Amazon's Mechanical Turk site – which offers “artificial artificial intelligence,” allowing companies to pay small sums of money to hire individuals to perform mundane or repetitive tasks – from Belkin's Mike Bayard asking for people to “write a positive 5/5 review for [a] product on [a] website.

The advert goes on to request that users wanting to get their hands a whole 65¢ US – that's a massive 44p at current exchange rates – write their review “as if you own the product and are using it” while giving the Belkin product “a 100% rating (as high as possible.)” Bayard even asks respondents to “mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” when you post yours.

While the phenomenon of companies paying people to create fake grass-roots support for their products or services – known as astroturfing – isn't new, this is the first time a company has been quite so blatant. Identified as a “business development representative at Belkin”, Bayard has created dozens of jobs on the Mechanical Turk site – all asking for people to create false reviews regarding products they neither own nor use.

Since the news of Belkin's shenanigans went public, Bayard – or someone higher up – has deleted all the jobs requests from the Mechanical Turk website – along with his profile on social networking site LinkedIn. Despite this clear admission that the company has been caught with its kimono open, Belkin has yet to come forward with an official statement regarding its activities.

Do you trust reviews on sites such as Amazon or Buy.com when purchasing products, or has this just confirmed what you've always long suspected? Should Belkin be allowed to get away with misleading its customers in this way? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

21 Comments

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teamtd11 19th January 2009, 12:53 Quote
Belkin = overpriced crap IMO
Bladestorm 19th January 2009, 12:53 Quote
While I think it (and a lot of "PR" in general if I'm honest) is pretty digusting, I don't suppose we'll be able to stop them anytime soon.
Flibblebot 19th January 2009, 13:10 Quote
tbh, I've never really bothered reading product reviews on shopping sites - they either tend be out and out praise, people complaining that they can't get the product to work or people flaming everyone else for being a retard.

I'd much rather rely on reviews from trusted sources, such as bit or TR.
Blademrk 19th January 2009, 13:33 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flibblebot
tbh, I've never really bothered reading product reviews on shopping sites - they either tend be out and out praise, people complaining that they can't get the product to work or people flaming everyone else for being a retard.

I'd much rather rely on reviews from trusted sources, such as bit or TR.

agreed.
TomH 19th January 2009, 14:12 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flibblebot
tbh, I've never really bothered reading product reviews on shopping sites - they either tend be out and out praise, people complaining that they can't get the product to work or people flaming everyone else for being a retard.

I'd much rather rely on reviews from trusted sources, such as bit or TR.
Well said. I was going to say before I scrolled down and saw your post; it's one more reason to visit a proper review site, such as Bit or TR.
harveypooka 19th January 2009, 14:17 Quote
Thirded on the not paying attention to Amazon reviews and relying on trusted sources.

Kind of ridiculous that a large manufacturer would try something like this though.
Tyrmot 19th January 2009, 14:20 Quote
Sometimes they can be useful, like in cases where you are trying to buy something that has not undergone an 'offical' review somwhere, but as proved by this affair, they must always taken with a healthy dose of skepticism as well.
kylew 19th January 2009, 14:21 Quote
I'm not really suprised. Reviews on shops are crap anyway. I'm pretty sure www.overclockers.co.uk will delete any product review if it's negative or it's 3 stars or under.
kenco_uk 19th January 2009, 14:29 Quote
Huh, why was I never offered a bribe?
liratheal 19th January 2009, 14:39 Quote
I only ever read negative reviews, to be honest.

Fltering through the ones that are PEBKAC, I find the negative ones speak volumes more than the reviews praising it.

Unless it's from an impartial, professional reviewer/review site.
johnnyboy700 19th January 2009, 14:45 Quote
Damn!

I sometimes looked for these reviews when browsing for various items that I hadn't seen reviewed elswhere, I'll be more suspicious in future.

Oh and I agree that a lot of the reviews do degenerate into a flame war between people calling each other retards, I just assumed it was more likely to be pre-pubescent teenies baiting each other. Trouble is you seem to get that everywhere now.

PS Shame on you Belkin, but even Sony were caught out posting fake reviews so would it be easier to ask if there are any companies that haven't done something similar?
War-Rasta 19th January 2009, 15:05 Quote
I do read reviews from sites such as amazon when I'm buying something, but i do look for professional reviews also. These kind of sites are not to be fully trusted because of things like this, but i have found that some times they tend to give you more specific details on some of the functions that you're looking for. Just keep in mind that not all you read on the net is 100% accurate and you should be fine.
whisperwolf 19th January 2009, 15:58 Quote
Now how badly will this backfire, how many people will now liberally scatter 1 star reviews across amazon and mark positive reviews as unhelpful?
Lilliput King 19th January 2009, 16:08 Quote
The idiocy of that sales exec beggars belief.

I mean how stupid do you have to be to post that kind of job request on the internet? Pretty stupid.

In any case, as liratheal said, the negative ones are usually worth reading, if the website gives you an option to filter them. All well and good to say just use sites like bit-tech, but opting to buy, say, a 4870 from a website, you know the card is good from reviews but you don't know what the bundle includes, how many slots the cooler is going to take up etc.

Basically, they can be useful. I'd just advise reading the 5 star ones.
Delphium 19th January 2009, 16:52 Quote
No surprises really, and this is why I am also going to have to echo "Flibblebot"'s comment.
Proper tech review sites is where its at.
mclean007 19th January 2009, 18:05 Quote
Ouch - named, shamed, blamed and flamed.
zelachang 19th January 2009, 19:55 Quote
Honestly, tech review sites are useful, but only to a certain extent. If you want to know how well something will perform or ease of use, places like bit-tech are great, but if you want to know if something is going to implode after 3 months reading negative reviews is where its at.
arw9000 19th January 2009, 20:04 Quote
100% A++++++++++++ RECOMMENDED PRODUCT I WOULD BUY 10,000 AGAIN WITHOUT HESITATION.

But seriously, I've found their stuff to be mostly okay. Everybody has to pay bills so nobody is truly neutral.
naokaji 20th January 2009, 07:30 Quote
I always thought it's the shops faking the reviews in the shops and not the manufacturers since negative ones disapear "magically" in many shops to not impact sales.
Lazarus Dark 20th January 2009, 13:20 Quote
Being so obvious almost makes it look like a competitor did it to give Belkin a bad name. Not saying that's what happened or defending belkin, I have a few products, but nothing I couldn't have gotten from another manufacturer, I'm just saying this is a bit beyond obvious.
outlawaol 20th January 2009, 16:39 Quote
I like what newegg did, they show if that reviewer bought the item from them. I can only assume that this was an attempt at reducing this. As always I read up on whatever it is anyway, either from bit or some other trusted review site.
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