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Amazon.com reviews are a farce.

Posted by monsonhaefel on November 16, 2003 at 11:43 AM PST

If you've been in the book writing game more than a week, then you are probably aware that some authors post fake reviews to their books and their competitors books. Its an ugly truth that is rarely spoken about.

When a book is sold on Amazon.com anyone can post a review about it whether they read it or not. All you need to do is create an account on Yahoo or HotMail and then create a new Amazon.com account with that e-mail address. You can be a Fred Smith, Barney Rubble, or anyone you want - you can even impersonate someone. Amazon.com doesn't seem to care. It's a prefect set up for fraud, and for people with no scruples it represents a simple way to pump up their own ratings while knocking down their competitors.

More recently, I've become aware that some individuals have gone a step further by posting fake five-star reviews on their own books using the names of famous people in our industry. If you think that's stupid, let me assure it happens. In fact, I found one book that had at least one (probably three) reviews impersonating well known figures in our industry. How do I know they were fakes? I asked the people I suspected were being impersonated. I myself was impersonated on Amazon.com in a slightly different manner.

A couple months ago I discovered two book recommendation lists that were posted under the name "Richard Monson-Haefel" on Amazon.com's Listmania page. One was called "Great Books on Web Services" and the other was "Books I wish I had Written". Both lists had one of my competitors book at the top, so that it became the icon for the list itself. I didn't post these lists, someone else impersonated me and posted them in some stupid attempt to influence readers - like people care what I like and don't like (why are you reading this anyway?). What really pissed me off was the fact that I was impersonated. There are only four people with the last name Monson-Haefel on this planet and that is my wife, two kids, and myself. Why so unique? My wife and I took each others names when we got married. She was a Haefel (a rare name) and I was a Monson. Monson-Haefel is a married name. That listmania posting under my name was intention fraud, and in many states its considered Identity Theft - a crime.

As a side note, James Gosling was also impersonated on Listmania – funny how his list recommended the same book as mine …. Hmmmm.

Amazon.com wields a huge amount of influence in the publishing industry. By some accounts 25% of all books (at least in our field) are sold by Amazon.com. That's incredible market share. Because Amazon.com doesn't verify the identity of their members it's has unwittingly created an environment that encourages fraud and identify theft. What can we do? Well, other than complain to Amazon.com maybe not much. If anyone feels the same way that I do, and you have a good idea of how to stop Amazon.com's current business practices let me know. I'm all ears.

Personally, I think the best solution is for Amazon.com to validate the identity of its members by credit card. Why? Well, unless you have connections in the underworld it's pretty hard to create more than one Amazon.com account because each identity would be associated with a valid credit card with a unique owner. It would pretty simple to determine that two members are the same person - even if they used different credit cards (e.g Visa and MasterCard) for each account. What would be even better is if Amazon.com only allowed people who purchased the book from Amazon.com to post a review about that book. This would make it pretty expensive to post multiple reviews to the same book, good or bad.

Richard

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