If you’re like many other Americans, internet reviews persuade your choice of online purchases. Internet reviews have become so influential that it is life or death for many restaurants. Even service industries have added weight to internet reviews. But a recent Amazon lawsuit, once again, has many talking about the authenticity of internet reviews.
The gaming of internet reviews was first given attention in a 2011 New York Times exposé by David Streitfeld, when he described the effort for businesses and individuals to appear better than their competition by saying: “…an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance.” And at that time, Cornell researchers concluded, at the 49th annual meeting of the Association of Computational Linguistics (Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, pages 309–319, Portland, Oregon, June 19-24, 2011.), that the detection of fake reviews is “well beyond the capability of human judges;” and recommended an analysis of reviews to include, among other things, psycho-linguistically motivated features.
Since the issue was brought to light in 2011, you might think that the practice of using fake reviews might have dwindled. On the contrary. It seems as if the practice has become increasingly sophisticated to circumvent the controls that are meant to weed them out. You can still find services that will write reviews – for a fee; fake reviews have even become specialized, where “reviewers” advertise to place their evaluations on specific websites. Furthermore, you can find online classified ads offering payment for reviews or to “swap” reviews for free.
In response to the seemingly persistent problem, Amazon is the first to take legal action to crack down on fake reviews. Jay Greene’s April 8th Seattle Times report (Amazon sues to block fake reviews on its site; seattletimes.com) indicated that the Amazon suit alleges that such reviews are deceptive and harmful to those who don’t abuse the review system. And according to CNET (Amazon sues alleged reviews-for-pay sites; cnet.com), Amazon (like many online sites) has invested in monitoring controls to foil fake reviews; but people seek out to game the system.
I hear you asking: “Surely, real estate agents don’t post fake reviews, right?”
According to Lani Rosales of AGBeat, the posting of fake agent reviews are “…unethical but seemingly common practice.” She reasoned in her 2011 report (Sketchy new trend – hiring fake online review writers; agbeat.com) that there has always been an element posting fake real estate agent reviews. And she anticipated that the trend would continue, as agents coped with the down market, “…Realtors are already using and will undoubtedly increase use of these willing reviewers, making for a repeat of history where agents are painted as being ‘number one,’ having ‘impeccable integrity’ and ‘superior service’…”
As we spend more time online (emarketer.com reported in 2013 that web users spent an average of 23 hours per week using email, texting, and social media), getting your online attention is big business – especially in the real estate industry. Apparently, there’s a lot of money at stake, such that a battle has be waging during the last year between Zillow Group (Zillow and Trulia) and News Corp (Move Inc and Realtor.com); alleging stolen secrets and wanting access to property listings.
And much like the fake reviews that vie for your business, the lawsuits between the real estate giants may ultimately reveal the business of the internet; which may not actually be about customer service, but really about selling a commodity – you.
Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.