Sunday, January 18, 2009

Belkin Admits To Paying For Positive Reviews

Late last week Arlen Parsa of the blog The Daily Background posted a story accusing electronics manufacturer Belkin of hiring people to write fake positive Amazon reviews. According to the report (and the screenshots) a post was created by a user named Mike Bayard on Amazon's Mechanical Turk offering to pay users 65 cents for every positive review they leave the product, a Belkin router.

The request asks users to leave a 100% rating (as high as possible), also suggesting user write as if "they own the product and are using it" and to "mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” once you post yours.”

It just so happens Mike Bayard is, at least according to The Daily Background and a now removed Linked-in profile, the Business Development Representative at Belkin International in charge of “Sales of Belkin products to major .com accounts such as”

Belkin's President Mark Reynoso has confirmed the reports in his response.

Belkin has always held itself to the highest standards of corporate ethics and its employees to the highest standards of personal integrity. Similarly, we support our online user community in discussion and reviews of our products, whether the commentary is good or bad. So, it was with great surprise and dismay when we discovered that one of our employees may have posted a number of queries on the Amazon Mechanical Turk website inviting users to post positive reviews of Belkin products in exchange for payment.

Belkin does not participate in, nor does it endorse, unethical practices like this. We know that people look to online user reviews for unbiased opinions from fellow users and instances like this challenge the implicit trust that is placed in this interaction. We regard our responsibility to our user community as sacred, and we are extremely sorry that this happened.

We want to stress that this is an isolated incident and to re-instill trust with you, we have taken the following courses of action:

- We've acted swiftly to remove all associated postings from the Mechanical Turk system.
- We're working closely with our online channel partners to ensure that any reviews that may have been placed due to these postings have been removed.

It's also important to recognize that our retail partners had no knowledge of, or participation in, these postings.

Once again, we apologize for this occurrence, and we will work earnestly to regain the trust we have lost.
The question for many will be was this actually all Bayard’s idea? Or did it come from someone higher up? How many products does this actually cover and over how many sites? For now at least all of the postings have been removed from Mechanical Turk.

My thoughts
As a consumer I think it sucks and is unfair. But the truth is paying for reviews is nothing new, so this really doesn't surprise me much. Posts on Mechanical Turk have been involved in similar controversy in the past, with reporting an iPhone developer was using the site to pay for positive iPhone reviews.

I'm sure in neither situation was it the first time it has happened and it won't likely be the last. User generated reviews can only be trusted so far, from there you've got to check some of the professional reviews and make a comparison. Not to say that professional reviews can't be tainted, but you do your homework and use your best judgment.

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