Earn extra money by writing fake positive reviews on Amazon.com!

A clever blogger has uncovered another scam having to do with online review postings, this time on Amazon.com. The Daily Background stumbled across on online offer from a Belkin sales rep to pay 65¢ to anyone who was willing to write a five-star review of a Belkin product in the product review section of the online superstore.

The bribery offer was posted on Mechanical Turk, a site that offers a pittance to anyone who's willing to do a task that automation can't do, like, say, writing reviews of Belkin's electronics products as if they were actually genuine. Thoughtfully, the rep offered some easy guidelines for posting false raves. Suggestions like "write as if you own the product and are using it," and "mark any other negative reviews as 'not helpful'."

It would be nice to think that this sort of thing doesn't happen very much, and naturally Belkin's official response was outrage, I say, outrage! But of course we'd be fooling ourselves if we thought that this sort of thing was rare, and as this incident proves, ballot boxes can easily be stuffed even if the company that benefits most, and the website that hosts the reviews, don't sanction it.

The solution grows murkier when you realize that as websites buy other websites, they all have vested interests in promoting sales. For example, TripAdvisor, a popular hotel review site, is owned by Expedia, which stands to make a buck if you book a room at one of its hotels. I'm not accusing Expedia of orchestrating positive reviews, but I can say one thing: Good reviews can translate into more bookings. (Mechanical Turk, incidentally, is owned by Amazon.)

The history of the interwebs is full of incidents of fraudulent reviews, and so far, most of the hosting websites either aren't interested in policing them seriously or they haven't come up with effective methods of preventing them. Until that happens, I encourage you to come up with an effective method for not believing them and not relying on them.

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