In an ongoing battle to ensure that product and book reviews are unbiased, Amazon is using its access to personal user to block reviews from users it determines to have a personal relationship with the product owner.
Blogger Imy Santiago writes of Amazon 'blocking' her review of an eBook, because they had somehow identified her as having a personal relationship with the Author.
After Amazon announced a new machine-learning based software which will remove irrelevant product reviews several weeks ago, Amazon Sellers & Authors were put on edge. Product reviews are a precious commodity: they not only build trust with potential customers once they discover the product, but reviews are known to factor into Amazon's search algorithm, helping products show up higher in Amazon's search results.
Most consumers put a lot of trust in published product reviews, and Amazon has the most concentrated bank of product and book reviews on the web. This is a huge strategic benefit for Amazon: a shopper comparing printers at Staples might research reviews of the models on Amazon to see which has the best user rating. If they see that it's available cheaper on Amazon, they'll probably click BUY there and then - a phenomenon known as "showrooming".
This new development is troubling in two ways:
Amazon knows who your 'friends' are
This story highlights Amazon's intense desire to keep its reviews ecosystem protected from biased reviews. As such, Amazon will look for any way it can to prevent customer trust being eroded from what it thinks to be biased reviews. it's unclear what data sources Amazon is using to link reviewers to Authors, but with the reams of data Amazon has on consumers, its probably more than we'd like to imagine.
“Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related,” says Amazon in response to Imy’s appeal. “We cannot share any further information about our decision and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.”
Amazon holds their cards so close to their chest that we'll never know the extent of the information they hold on us all. But you can be sure they are scraping users' addresses, gifts they send and receive, and other public online information like Facebook friends, check-ins, and LinkedIn connections.
But this leads to the second issue:
Amazon appears to have got it wrong
The blogger insists that she does not in fact have a relationship with the Author of the book for which she attempted to write a review, saying that Amazon is making an “erroneous and quite presumptuous assessment”.
It's unlikely that this is an isolated incident, leading Sellers and Authors to wonder how many more genuine reviews have potentially been blocked erroneously.
Most people know and accept that companies like Amazon have gobs of personal information on them. Author Charles Duhigg demonstrated how Target has such extensive dossiers on customers to the extent that their analysts know when one of their customers has fallen pregnant.
But with odd messages like these, Amazon is treading a fine line between keeping their review ecosystem pristine and freaking out reviewers (or at least maligning them) - jeopardizing one of the huge advantages they have in the online marketplace.