ReviewMeta wants to helps online shoppers reality check shady Amazon reviews

Amazon’s inflated ratings have been an issue for years.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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In 2006, Tommy Noonan started a website called SupplementReviews.com after watching fake product ratings flood the online fitness community. About a decade later, a member pointed out another arena for phony supplement reviews: Amazon.

“I checked out a listing on Amazon for a testosterone booster that had 580 reviews. I started reading the reviews and was just stunned,” Noonan said. “Multiple people were saying straight out that they had not used the product and they were only reviewing it to get a free fat burner...and they still gave it five stars.”

Do a number on: Noonan read every review and noticed most were written during the same weekend. The first 30 reviewers had only reviewed products from this particular brand, giving five out of five stars across the board.

  • “The gears in my head started turning.” Noonan wrote a computer program that collected information from Amazon, plus another program to analyze the data and show abnormalities. ReviewMeta was born.

How the (faux) sausage gets made

ReviewMeta is one of a few options for online shoppers who want a reality check. When they see fishy product listings, customers can enter the Amazon URL and get an “adjusted rating” that filters out what the service deems as faulty reviews.

ReviewMeta takes all the reviews for a given Amazon listing and looks for patterns. Noonan asks questions like...

  • Are a lot of the reviews written on the same date?
  • Are there abnormal spikes in the number of reviews per day?
  • Are the reviews regurgitating the same marketing phrases?

Aside from supplements, Noonan said fake reviews proliferate under “products that simply don’t work, like mosquito repellent bracelets” and consumer electronics. “Products that have a high profit margin and are easy to manufacture, a low barrier to entry, and have a lot of competition and a lot of search volume on Amazon.”

Close read: Researchers at UCLA conducted a 10-month study and estimated that up to 4.5 million sellers used Facebook groups to source fake reviews.

  • They work—at least at first, translating to “an average 12.5% bump in [the products’] sales ranks.” But in mere weeks, the real one-star reviews pour in and sink rankings.

Phonies everywhere

Amazon’s inflated ratings have been an issue for years, but platforms like ReviewMeta put the onus on the consumer.

Big Tech has recently come under scrutiny for their efforts to combat fake reviews.

  • Amazon and Google now face a formal investigation in the UK.
  • Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, but a spokesman told The WSJ in June that the company analyzes 10 million reviews weekly.

Checkered: One way Amazon says it’s fighting phonies is with its new one-tap star ratings. While Noonan said the company is “doing a lot,” he believes that feature is backfiring.

“There are a lot more ratings and the ratings are more positive on average. There's no way for anybody to tell if they're fake or not [because] there's no text [or] date...It's impossible to analyze.”—JG

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