Since the dawn of online reviews, businesses have been attempting to game the system by flooding sites with bogus star ratings, fictitious reviews. And even though the major sites have enacted safeguards to prevent automated ways of rigging reviews, there’s little they can do to stop an actual human from logging on to boost a review in exchange for a few pennies.
And that’s literally all it takes, says a new study from researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara, which found that a growing number of companies are turning to shadowy shills in China, where a fake review — or a Facebook like, a Twitter follower, etc. — from a real person can run you as little as $.13 to $.70.
The chart shown above (from the UCSB study) shows what two China-based companies charged per-task for things like posting on forums and registering accounts.
Organizers enlist dozens or hundreds of professional shills. They orchestrate mass account creation (bolstering “XYZ Systems now has 100,000 registered users” claims), generate bogus ratings, post canned cut-and-paste positive reviews — and follow up with screenshots of their successes. Money flows from the customer to the organizer, then to the shills. And it’s very difficult — if not impossible — to trace.
“Our results suggest that campaigns on these systems are highly effective at reaching users, and their continuing growth poses a concrete threat to online communities such as social networks, both in the US and elsewhere,” conclude the researchers.
As we’ve warned readers in the past, there are numerous ways to spot bogus reviews. For example:
*Look for marketing speak, wherein the reviewer is obviously copying and pasting from a press release.
*If it’s a site where reviewers are required to register, check out the reviewer to see if they have written other reviews. Chances are that a faker will either have no other reviews under their belt or they will all be extremely positive, no matter how bad the product.
You can download a PDF of the entire UCSB study here.
Thanks to Dave for the tip!