Amazon has been a pioneering company in a number of respects, from becoming the world’s largest online retailer to introducing cloud computing technology to the masses, and 20 years ago, when they implemented the user product review. On Wednesday, April 8th, the company took major strides in protecting the integrity of the review process when it filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court against Jay Gentile and 20 others for operating four websites that sold fake reviews for retailers who sell their products via Amazon. Gentile, who is the CEO and Marketing Specialist of “buyazonreviews.com,” is being accused of selling the extremely positive reviews for a rate of $19-22 each, depending on the amount purchased. Three other sites are named in the lawsuit: buyamazonreviews.com, bayreviews.net, and bayreviewsnow.com, as well as the 20 unnamed defendants listed as John Doe’s 1-20. Amazon claims that the fake reviews damage the credibility of the process as well as damage the Amazon brand image. Although review site, Yelp also filed a similar lawsuit earlier this year, many believe it is the language in the Amazon complaint, and the fact that they are alleging these reviews to be considered as crimes, that could be the mechanism to shut the fake review industry down for good.
The complaint itself was filed by Amazon for violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, false advertising, and trademark infringement. The latter charges were included because these sites use Amazon’s logo without permission as well as using misleading versions of Amazon’s domain name. If the allegations prove true, the buyazonreviews.com scheme was especially complex, geared to bypass the stringent quality control methods that Amazon implements. The site promises “verified and regular” reviews, even going as far as encouraging retailers to ship empty boxes to reviewers so the Amazon system would have a trail of shipments. According to the complaint, Amazon purchased several of these reviews in order to gather information, and discovered one particular account in which Gentile promised a “slow drip” of reviews to avoid suspicion, and giving all 5-star except for one 4-star review to make it look “more realistic.”
Although listing the other 20 unnamed defendants in the complaint as having some association with the websites, Amazon believes that all of the sites are operated, directly or indirectly, by Gentile. This is where the case becomes more confusing. The Seattle Times has named Mark Collins as the owner of Buyamazonreviews.com, and Collins has defended the site, telling the paper that, “We are not selling fake reviews, however, we do provide unbiased and honest review on all the products. And this is not illegal at all.” Collins claims to have never heard of Gentile, however.
The association between defendants should be resolved during litigation, but it is the content of Collins’ statement that is Amazon’s true target. While officially seeking triple damages plus attorney’s fees as a resolution, the language of the complaint does not mince words in reinforcing Amazon’s belief that fake reviews are crimes. Given the financial clout that the company has to work with, and its belief in the gravity of the problem, this case could singlehandedly end the fake review industry. This is clearly Amazon’s goal and given their rate of success at nearly everything they try, the odds are certainly in their favor.
Entrepreneur – Kim Lachance Shandrow
Techspot – Tim Schiesser
Wall Street Journal Law Blog – Greg Bensinger