Amazon Is Data Mining Reviewers’ Personal Relationships

In spite of her assertions to the contrary, Amazon insists that Imy is a personal friend of an author whose book she tried to review, but the site won't disclose how it came to this conclusion.

In spite of her assertions to the contrary, Amazon insists that Imy is a personal friend of an author whose book she tried to review, but the site won’t disclose how it came to this conclusion.

Any Amazon customer is likely aware that the e-tail giant knows a lot about them. That’s how it personalizes product suggestions and customizes the marketing e-mails it sends. But some Amazon users are now finding out that the site knows — or at least it thinks it knows — who your friends are, and is restricting their reviews accordingly.

Blogger Imy Santiago writes of a particularly odd experience with Amazon that resulted after she tried to review an e-book she’d recently read.

“Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form,” stated an automated message from Amazon, saying her review had violated the site’s review guidelines, but without saying where she’d gone wrong.

After another failed attempt to post the review — also denied without giving a specific explanation — Imy wrote to Amazon hoping to get some more details on why her write-up was being blocked.

“We cannot post your Customer Review… to the Amazon website because your account activity indicates that you know the author,” explained the response from the company. “Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. Because our goal is to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or misleading will not be posted.”

According to Imy, Amazon is making an “erroneous and quite presumptuous assessment” in asserting that she knows the author of the book she’s trying to review.

In her appeal to Amazon, she concedes that the independent publishing community is a small one and that she may have had social media interactions with the author, but “knowing of an author online, and personally knowing an author in real life are two different things. By your definition it would mean that bloggers such as myself are being barred from reviewing books they legitimately purchased, which in turn contravenes with the notion that reviews for a verified purchase are highly encouraged.”

Imy says it is “unfair to the authors whose work I love, to be punished for a claim that simply cannot stand. I don’t know any authors on a personal level.”

Her appeal fell on deaf ears, as the response from Amazon simply restated, “We removed your Customer Reviews because you know the author personally.”

As to how the company came to this conclusion, we’ll never know.

“Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related,” concludes the denial of Imy’s appeal. “We cannot share any further information about our decision and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.”

We’ve written to Amazon for comment on this story and will update if we hear anything back.

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  1. webalias says:

    It’s a good thing Amazon is taking the steps it is taking. The relationships between many so-called reviewers and those who create and market the products they review is often way too cozy. A lot of what pretends to be a “review” on Amazon (as well as on some consumer blog sites) is really just shameless promo copy.

    Some dead giveaways are gushing testimonials by reviewers who have only written one or two reviews in their life — what, oh what compelled them to sing the praises of this particular product? Or equally glowing comments by people who have reviewed hundreds of products — and apparently loved everything they ever bought.

    Amazon’s increased scrutiny will inevitably screen out some honest, thoughtful, unbiased reviews, as may have happened in this case. But it’s a small price to pay if Amazon can weed out the marketing b.s. and improve the quality and integrity of its review process, overall.