No, Amazon Won’t Tell You The Rules, Nor Should They

Author Imy Santiago rcently wrote a blog post about her experiences with Amazon deleting reviews and blocking her from posting more reviews.

She included a screenshot of her conversation with Amazon’s technical support, and I have copied and annotated it below:

Amazon… A virtual marketplace  or Big Brother    imy santiago

The portion that I have outlined in red seems to be upsetting people, and I can feel a certain degree of sympathy.  The question that people are asking is, “How are we supposed to follow the rules when Amazon won’t tell us what they are?”

That’s a good question, granted.  But Amazon can’t tell you the rules.

The algorithms used to flag and remove suspect reviews are a fraud countermeasure and the first rule of fraud countermeasures is that you don’t talk about fraud countermeasures.

There are two approaches to loss prevention in a business–the first is to make it hard to steal from you and the second is to make it easy to catch people who do.

Type one includes things like putting goods behind the sales counter or on locking shelves.  You want those kinds of deterrents to be obvious.  In fact, you want to make them look even more formidable than they actually are. The best lock is one that looks so damned impressive that no one bothers to try to pick it.

Type two–catching those who are not deterred by the obvious security measures–has to be more covert.  Security companies–the good ones, anyway–that provide exterior sweeps to client businesses work hard to keep those sweeps unpredictable.  The best kind of live guard coverage is 24/7.  The second best kind is random.  A guard who drives by every hour at fifteen minutes past the hour might as well stay home.

Providing paid reviews to sellers on Amazon is  a huge business. Amazon is such a large section of the market that manipulating the review system is a full time job for some people.

This costs Amazon money.  If the Amazon rankings are seen as unreliable then Amazon loses sales and loses customers.  I buy a lot of games for my Kindle and I can tell you that I don’t trust most reviews.  I always read the two and three star reviews first, because they are likely to be the most genuine.

That’s for 2-4 dollar purchases.  I am very unlikely to buy a big ticket item from Amazon unless I am already familiar with the product.  Unreliable reviews are one of the major reasons why.

Looking at it from a loss prevention standpoint, of course Amazon can’t publicize the method by which suspect reviews are flagged.  If they did that, then the scammers would simply change their tactics to avoid being flagged automatically.

The word will get out, of course.  Last year’s unbreakable system is next year’s unlocked door.  Security is a continual race between guns and armor, which is why IT people and locksmiths stay in business.

And when the current algorithms are understood and exploits designed, Amazon will have to change them again.  So knowing what got a review flagged today wouldn’t help you much into the future anyway.

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to No, Amazon Won’t Tell You The Rules, Nor Should They

  1. I think the reason a lot of people are upset about Amazon not telling is that it scares them (and it probably should) that Amazon CAN know if you know someone personally. People are worried about the “big brother” aspect of Amazon. My guess is that they are figuring out who knows each other through Facebook. I guess once you’re on FB, there’s no privacy left, but I don’t believe it’s right to discount reviews of people who happen to get to know an author on FB or any other social media. I have avid readers who interact with me all the time. They were readers FIRST, then friends.

    Also, one complaint I heard was that Amazon was deleting legitimate reviews in some cases and leaving the ones that were paid for. I know some of my reviews were deleted.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I have never had any expectation of privacy on-line. If I choose to send information to someone else’s equipment, I can’t really be upset that other people read it.

      And I’m sure that Amazon is deleting reviews that are legitimate, as well as leaving ones that are fraudulent. No discriminant function is going to be perfect, and this is a first iteration–it’s likely to be quite flawed. Information gathered from this usage will inform later generations. Will Amazon restore the improperly deleted reviews? Perhaps–but I doubt it will be soon.

      My point is simply that in my opinion their refusal to publicize the method by which they flag and remove reviews is to be expected. The question of whether they should be doing so at all is a much thornier issue, and one that I am probably not competent to discuss.

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