Targeting a California purveyor of product reviews, the online retail giant says that bogus evaluations undermine customer trust.
Amazon.com sued three websites it accuses of purveying fake reviews, demanding that they stop the practice.
The suit alleges that the glowing product evaluations they provide deceive consumers and harm the sellers on Amazon’s site who don’t game the system.
The suit, filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court, accuses Jay Gentile of California and websites that operate as buyamazonreviews.com and buyazonreviews.com, among others, of trademark infringement, false advertising and violations of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
“While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand,” according to the suit.
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The site buyazonreviews.com, which the suit claims is run by Gentile, didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Mark Collins, the owner of buyamazonreviews.com, denied Amazon’s claims.
In an email interview, Collins said the site simply offers to help Amazon’s third-party sellers get reviews.
“We are not selling fake reviews. however we do provide Unbiased and Honest reviews on all the products,” Collins wrote. “And this is not illegal at all.”
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on active litigation.
Reviews have been a key piece of the shopping experience on Amazon since the company first debuted the review system 20 years ago. The very first review was of Dr. Seuss’ “The Butter Battle Book.” The company believed that unbiased reviews would help sell products because they would breed loyalty.
Positive reviews should boost sales. But fake reviews have long undermined the system, making it hard to distinguish between real ones and frauds.
The suit is the first time Amazon has tried to crack down on fake reviews since it debuted the review platform. It accuses Gentile of promising a customer that the company would “provide as many five-star reviews as the purchaser wanted,” and that he also promised to “slow drip” them onto Amazon’s product pages so that the company would have a “more difficult time detecting them.”
The suit also alleges Gentile told the customer that the seller could “simply ship empty packages in an effort to fool Amazon into believing the reviewer was a ‘verified purchaser.’ ” It says the websites sell its service for $19 to $22 per review.
The suit does not name Collins, only his website.
Collins said that his site and the very similar-sounding site buyazonreviews.com are unrelated. And he added that he’s never heard of Gentile.
Collins defended his business, writing that his website operates as a “middleman,” connecting sellers with buyers willing to write reviews. The sellers provide reviewers with discounted items. But he said there are no restriction on the type of review they can post.
Amazon is also suing for trademark infringement, saying the websites are using the company’s name and logo without authorization. It’s also accused the websites of cybersquatting by hosting sites with names “identical to or confusingly similar to” Amazon’s own site.
The company is asking the court to force the various websites to cease using Amazon’s name and stop selling Amazon reviews. It’s also seeking triple damages, as well as attorneys fees.