While shopping, the rule of thumb is that product reviews are not to be trusted. Despite the fact that the vast majority of shoppers still say reviews play a big role in their decision-making, the paid-for-review racket, much of which is undertaken by bots run by shady sellers, is taking over the digital space.
Monitoring service Fakespot Inc found that some 42% of 720 million reviews assessed last year on Amazon, the number one online retailer, were unreliable. In the same assessment, almost 36% of Walmart.com reviews were deemed fake.
UK-based consumer group Which? found 10 websites selling fake reviews from $7 to $18 each, or cheaper in a bulk package.
In Italy, tens of thousands are joining Amazon channels on social media and messaging apps that are offering five-star reviews for products in return for financial rewards of up to $3 per review.
In the newest case of manipulated reviews, the author of the product is Chinese President Xi Jinping himself.
According to Reuters, who obtained Amazon’s internal briefing document, Chinese authorities pushed Amazon to delete all comments and reviews related to “The Governance of China,” a collection of President Xi speeches and writings.
This action took place back in 2018 but wasn't disclosed until Reuters released a report late last week, detailing how the Chinese government demand was prompted after less-than-stellar reviews on the book were posted.
Currently, reviews for Xi’s book are blocked only on Amazon’s Chinese website, while the Amazon.com entry has received 75% five-star reviews.
In a written response, Amazon said it "complies with all applicable laws and regulations, wherever we operate, and China is no exception."
The sacrifice to appease the wishes of the Chinese authorities are part and parcel of the firm's strategy to maintain favor in the country.
"Amazon's compliance with the Chinese government edict, which has not been reported before, is part of a deeper, decade-long effort by the company to win favor in Beijing to protect and grow its business in one of the world's largest marketplaces," Reuters wrote.
To appease Chinese regulators and to win more market share in China's highly competitive digital marketplace, Amazon partnered with state-owned China International Book Trading Corp (CIBTC) to create the “China Books” site.
While many books on the site are apolitical and focus on geography, cooking, and children's literature, all books of a political nature are said to come out in support of China's Communist Party.
Xi's book was reportedly listed as a bestseller on “China Books”, while other books cover issues such as denying the mistreatment of ethnic minorities and painting the government's fight against the pandemic as "heroic."
Other foreign companies, including Adidas and Microsoft, have been targeted by China for criticizing Chinese government
In 2019, Google dropped its Dragonfly project, a censored version of its search engine. The project attracted criticism as a potential means through which Chinese authorities could censor web content and monitor citizens' behavior online.
In October this year, Microsoft said it was shutting down LinkedIn in China, noting that the requirements to comply with the Chinese state had become overbearing. As an alternative, the company launched a new job searching site called InCareer, which does not include a social media feed and therefore is less challenging in terms of compliance issues.