Amazon wants help dealing with user review abuse

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(Image credit: Amazon)

An awful lot of PC gamers buy an awful lot of PC hardware through Amazon. The prices are good, the selection is great, you can go shopping to your heart's content literally without budging from where you're parked right now, and deliveries, while ethically dubious, are fast and reliable. 

One part of the experience that isn't always quite so reliable, though, is user reviews. In an update posted today, Amazon said that while it strives to ensure that customer reviews "accurately reflect the experience that customers have had with a product," it warned that fake reviews are becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. 

"In 2020, we stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews before they were ever seen by a customer, and more than 99% of reviews enforcement was driven by our proactive detection," Amazon wrote. "In addition to stopping these reviews, we take action to shut down and stop review submissions from the accounts contributing the fake reviews and to enforce the bad actors' selling accounts trying to artificially benefit from this abuse."

That sounds like a pretty successful campaign against abuse, but because of those efforts, perpetrators have begun taking fake reviews off-site, particularly through social media, either directly or through a third-party service. This is where the situation grows more complicated: Amazon said it uses "a number of techniques, including advanced machine learning," to combat off-platform abuse, but it's much more challenging to deal with it effectively when it's happening elsewhere, and the numbers are going up.

"In the first three months of 2020, we reported more than 300 groups to social media companies, who then took a median time of 45 days to shut down those groups from using their service to perpetrate abuse," it wrote. "In the first three months of 2021, we reported more than 1,000 such groups, with social media services taking a median time of five days to take them down."

Social media platforms are obviously much faster in responding to complaints these days, but in order to address the problem "at scale," Amazon said they need to invest more in "proactive controls to detect and enforce fake reviews ahead of our reporting the issue to them." It also called on consumer regulation agencies for "coordinated assistance" in bringing legal action against fake review service providers and those who use them.

"We need social media companies whose services are being used to facilitate fake reviews to proactively invest in fraud and fake review controls, partner with us to stop these bad actors, and help consumers shop with confidence," Amazon wrote. "It will take constant innovation and partnership across industries and law enforcement to fully protect consumers and our honest selling partners."

It might be difficult to work up much sympathy for the travails of the multi-billion-dollar behemoth Amazon, but user review abuse is a long-standing and widespread problem. Probably the best-known example among PC gamers is that of Valve, which has struggled with the problem for years. Despite measures including "histogram" charts, the exclusion of "off-topic" reviews, and automated prompts to update old reviews, it's still a problem: Nier: Automata suffered a significant review-bombing in March at the hands of users who wanted it updated to match the version available on the Windows Store. If Amazon is able to come up with an effective strategy to meaningfully reduce user review abuse, it could prove beneficial for other platforms and storefronts (and everyone who uses them) in the long run too. 

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.