How fake reviewers using stolen identities of British schoolgirls can be hired for £3 to get books into bestseller lists on Amazon

11 October 2015

From The Daily Mail:

Fake reviewers using stolen identities can be hired for just £3 to get books into bestseller lists on Amazon, it was claimed today.

The ‘professional review writers’ are paid to pen five-star reports for various products on the retail website, using the identities of real people from social media to make them seem more reliable.

One US-based reviewer with dozens of accounts sold positive reviews to an undercover reporter for $5 (£3.26) each, posting them under the names of three 15-year-old girls from Middlesbrough.

. . . .

In an investigation, The Sunday Times published a ghost-written eBook full of errors, and spent £56 on fake reviewers who got it to the top of a UK Kindle gardening and horticulture bestsellers list.

Sophie Tiernan was one of the three British schoolgirls whose identities were used to review products – including eBooks, beard growth supplements and even a rectal thermometer.

Her mother Gill Tiernan told the newspaper: ‘This is completely disgusting. These girls are all friends so this person must have gone through their Facebook profiles to steal their details.’

She added that her daughter was ‘petrified’ about what happened and had complained to Amazon, insisting that the website must have better procedures in place to verify reviewers.

The newspaper’s reporters Robin Henry and Sanya Burgess also found a Bangladesh-based reviewer who charges $7 (£4.57) for a positive review and $10 (£6.52) for a negative one.

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail and thanks to Karen for the tip.

Author Defends Sci-Fi as A “Purely Male Domain” in Cringingly Sexist Review of All-Women Anthology

18 September 2015

From Carolyn Cox at The Mary Sue

. . .

Dark Beyond the Stars, an all-female sci-fi anthology… has a 66% 5-star rating on Amazon overall, but received this 2-star review last Friday (under the title “Space Opera It Ain’t”):

“I’m sorry to offend fifty percent of the population but it has to be said that when it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.

I bought the above book the other day, hoping to be proved wrong. It is a collection of stories under the banner of science fiction by an all female group of writers. They are: Patrice Fitzgerald, Blair C. Babylon, Annie Bellet, Elle Casey, Ann Christy, Autumn Kalquist, Theresa Kay, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sara Reine, Rysa Walker and Jennifer Foehner Wells.

While the stories are expertly edited by David Gatewood, without exception, sadly each one has that special something missing to make them true scifi, let alone memorable. …

For the publisher to make the claim that the anthology is space opera is laughable! Obviously neither Gatewood or anyone else connected with this collection of stories has a clue about what constitutes a space opera. …

For any scifi story to be considered to be a space opera, it should always be a mixture of fast paced action combined with a large measure of the shoot-em-up mentality.

I applaud the ladies for giving it a try, but I would suggest they forget going any further. Leave the genre to those of us who know how to write scifi, being well versed in it’s many nuances…”

The male author ended the “review” with his name and a mention of one of his own books, and later republished the review on his blog and linked to it on Twitter.

. . .

This emphasis on action in sci-fi (and on action’s supposed masculinity) isn’t just an issue in the literary world, of course; director Colin Trevorrow recently made the well-intentioned but still incorrect statement that female filmmakers are inherently less interested in movies that “involve superheroes or spaceships or dinosaurs” than their male peers are.

. . .

A Dark Beyond the Stars author contacted Amazon to ask them to remove the review, and received this response:

“I understand your concerns, but the review doesn’t violate our posted guidelines, so I’m unable to remove it in its current format.

We try to encourage our customers to give their honest opinions on our products while staying within our guidelines. As a retailer we are interested in cultivating a diversity of opinion on our products. Part of that is allowing our customers to air their honest thoughts on items they have received.”

Although it’s irritating that HWSNBN’s egregious mansplaining will remain on Amazon, his review does have the incidental benefit of demonstrating exactly the kind of sexism lady genre authors are up against–if you’re a man who can’t understand why some female writers choose gender neutral or male pseudonyms, allow the Voldemort of book reviews to demonstrate the kind of prejudice they’re trying to avoid.

Posted by vacation blogger Bridget McKenna

Link to the rest at The Mary Sue and thanks to Ryssa for the tip.

Wikipedia Blocks 381 Accounts for Paid Editing

2 September 2015

From PC Magazine:

Wikipedia has blocked nearly 400 user accounts for what it calls “black hat” editing.

The 381 accounts in question were reportedly accepting money to promote external interests without revealing their affiliation.

In layman’s terms, hackers were paid to spread misinformation on the Internet encyclopedia—a direct violation of The Wikimedia Foundation’s Terms of Use.

. . . .

An open-source service that anyone with a Web connection and a keyboard can edit, Wikipedia relies heavily on volunteer editors to stay vigilant against folks distorting the truth—intentional or not. If an inappropriate edit makes its way in, efforts are made to quickly squash it.

In this case, editors not only blocked 381 so-called “sockpuppet” accounts (those used in misleading or deceptive ways), but also deleted 210 articles created by the same accounts.

Most of the articles, according to Wikimedia, were related to businesses, business people, or artists, and were “generally promotional in nature,” often with biased information, unattributed content, and potential copyright violations. Edits across those pages were similar enough that the company believes they were conducted by the same person or persons.

. . . .

This is not the online encyclopedia’s first sockpuppeting rodeo: In the fall of 2013, volunteers blocked hundreds of accounts related to consulting firm Wiki-PR. The Wikimedia Foundation later amended its Terms of Use to clarify its ban on the practice.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

A Book Review

28 August 2015

Reviewing Irish books: the good, the bad and the ugly truth

18 July 2015

From The Irish Times:

When in their Irish Times reviews earlier this year Joseph O’Connor praised Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither and Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies to the heights and John Boyne did the same for Belinda McKeon’s Tender, it seemed to confirm the return of the feel-good factor to an Irish literary world that was not immune to the economic downturn.

Last Saturday, however, the warm glow turned from Ready-Brek to radioactive as readers and writers took to social media to respond to an excoriating review of Paul Murray’s new novel, The Mark and the Void, by Eileen Battersby, the Literary Correspondent of The Irish Times.

The negative review perhaps came as a particular surprise, given that the same critic had been such an enthusiastic champion of his much-loved previous novel, Skippy Dies. As Róisín Ingle reminded her Twitter followers: “So Man Booker wanted a comic novel? This was it & twice as funny as The Finkler Question.”: Eileen Battersby on Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies.”

. . . .

Others condemned the review as vicious and nasty, offered up conspiracy theories about it being a Trinity College thing (eh?) or speculated that the unflattering portrait of a female literary critic in the novel, Mary Cutlass, may have played a part.

However, the spoken word poet Brendan McCormack was representative of those who took a different view of the outcry: “Irish novelist gets bad review on home soil. Nepotists up in arms. Quelle surprise”.

. . . .

 Part of the problem, in my view, is that there is a tendency among some reviewers in Ireland to pull their punches – heck, some even refuse to get into the ring in the first place or duck back under the ropes as soon as they read a few pages and realise their subject has a glass chin. I don’t think any reviewer punches below the belt, certainly not intentionally. But occasionally they come out swinging from the first bell, or sentence, and just keep on punching to score their points, even when their opponent is already helpless on the floor, which entertains some but upsets many others.

. . . .

So, in an attempt to clear the air and open up the subject for debate, I asked a wide cross-section of authors and critics who review for The Irish Times these questions: How honest can you be reviewing books by Irish authors in a country like Ireland, where the literary scene is so small? And as a writer, how do you respond to a bad review? Is it possible not to take it personally?

Perhaps the most telling – and ironic – response was this, by an author who by necessity must remain anyonmous: “Actually, as I try and write this, I realise I probably can’t say what I really think – both because [redacted] and for the sake of my future as a writer! So, interested as I am, I’ll pass – what I could actually write would be so mealy-mouthed you wouldn’t want it anyway. And my agent advised me against it.”

. . . .

Fintan O’Toole

I’ve worked as a critic in both Ireland and the US and Ireland is much harder. It’s an intimate place and the number of people directly involved in fields like theatre or fiction is small. Over time, you’re bound to meet most of them. That puts a huge premium on honesty. People come to expect that the critic is somehow part of the scene and therefore obliged to be supportive. Praise is increasingly considered as the default setting and anything less must be motivated by some personal grudge or conspiracy.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times and thanks to Edmond for the tip.

Amazon Accused of Censoring Book Reviews

13 July 2015

From The Guardian:

In the age of social media, interacting with our favorite authors has gotten much easier. Using platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, fans can pose direct questions, “like” recent status announcements, and even track where and when authors will hold their next public reading. And yet, even with all these new ways to connect, most fans still aren’t able to sit down at the dinner table with their literary idols.

Amazon, however, is being accused of determining through some sort of mysterious algorithm who is actually well-acquainted in real life. If we’ve interacted with authors online, the Guardian warns us that “Amazon might decide that you’re “friends” and ban you from leaving a review of their latest book.”

In a blog post, indie author Imy Santiago writes of being prevented from leaving a book review on the site because Amazon decided her “account activity indicates that you know the author.” In reality, Santiago only ever interacted with the author online; she considers Amazon’s decision “censorship at its finest.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit and thanks to Dave and many others for the tip.

Snagshout: Get a discount, write a review

8 July 2015

From CNN Money:

Snagshout, which launched last week, sells gadgets, home goods, and other everyday items at 40% to 90% off listed prices. There are even some freebies.

Here’s how it works:

Snagshout approves new users after they link their Amazon accounts to the site. After approval, they can browse and select from a list of deals that can be redeemed on Amazon using a promo code during checkout.

In order to continue using Snagshout, customers are required to post a review of each purchase after they receive and test it. Snagshout is notified when reviews are published.

“We’re kind of modeling it after the Vine program,” Snagshout CEO Paul Johnson said, referring to Amazon Vine, which lets businesses give away their products to trusted reviewers.

. . . .

While Snagshout is capitalizing on something many of us do — buy and review stuff — there have been concerns about incentive-based review sites and limited quantity offers.

Studies have shown that people tend to be influenced by a number of factors when rating businesses online, including pre-existing reviews and even the weather. Giving discounts or freebies can also build bias, which is why disclosures are crucial.

In February, the FTC reached a settlement with a car shipment broker over the firm’s policy of providing customers with discounts in exchange for reviews. The agency argued that the company “deceptively represented that its favorable reviews were based on the unbiased reviews of customers.” The agreement required the broker “to clearly and prominently disclose any material connection.”

Snagshout tells sellers it doesn’t guarantee positive reviews, and it requires all customers to include this sentence in published opinions: “This product was provided at a discounted price in exchange for my honest review.”

. . . .

CNNMoney investigated some of the items on Snagshout and found that the vast majority are already highly rated on Amazon, and reviewed by hundreds of people.

Currently, there are 700 businesses that sell through Snagshout, and 30,000 shoppers have an account on the site, according to Johnson. Only a few users have complained about certain products, he said. But as the site grows, it may become harder to manage more issues.

. . . .

[The] five-person business is based out of Athens, Georgia.

Link to the rest at CNN Money and thanks to Chloe for the tip.

PG did a quick check and couldn’t find any books on Snagshout.

‘Hello’ from Amazon – Big Brother style review censorship

24 June 2015

From WriterChristophFisher:

Dear Readers A few weeks ago I woke up to this message:

Hello from  We are writing to inform you that we have removed your review privileges and suppressed all of your reviews. Any new reviews written will automatically be suppressed. We took this action because you have failed to comply with our review guidelines and manipulated product reviews.

. . . .

Surprised and curious I asked them for clarification on the matter but have had no personal reply to my appeal. Amazon removed all of the reviews I wrote: 1700 of them without discussion or ‘trial’. Eventually I received this:

Hello, We’ve removed Customer Reviews left by your account because it’s come to our attention that you have violated our policies by manipulating Customer Reviews. Any attempt to manipulate ratings, feedback, or Customer Reviews is prohibited. After reviewing your account, we’ve determined that your reviews will remain removed from the site. For more information, please review our Customer Review Guidelines ( We will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter. We appreciate your cooperation, Review Moderator

You can see, they are not very forthcoming, despite their trigger happiness. I’d like to believe that they are trying their best to make the system credible but without bothering to tell me what my crime is and without effective deletion of troll reviews I am getting cynical. Every review is a “manipulation of customers”.

Trolls and nasty people are doing their worst with full support of Amazon. I’m currently inundated with messages, some from irate authors assuming that ‘I have deleted the reviews of their book’. Apologies, this has nothing to do with me, neither do I know why this is happening.

I’ve had plenty of questions from you: whether my reviews were verified purchases, whether I forgot to mention when I received a copy for the book etc. I cannot answer any of these questions as I do not know which specific review or ‘behaviour’ has triggered the alleged ‘violation’, nor have I violated their guidelines. 95% of my reviews were of books I bought through Amazon and I usually mentioned if I had been given a copy for review.

. . . .

Strangely, the action against me by Amazon took place at a time when I hardly reviewed due to a family bereavement and house move. My ranking was dwindling anyway. I wonder if it could be the doing of one of a few disgruntled individuals, whose books I refused to review or who have taken issue with me in one of the Facebook groups. As moderator in several of them I have made enemies. Without word from Amazon, this is all useless speculation that I have long abandoned.

Link to the rest at WriterChristophFisher and thanks to Al for the tip.

Amazon looks to improve customer-reviews system with machine learning

20 June 2015

From C/Net:

Amazon is rolling out a big change to its customer reviews system in the US, introducing a new machine-learning platform it developed in-house to surface newer and more helpful reviews.

“The system will learn what reviews are most helpful to customers…and it improves over time,” Amazon spokeswoman Julie Law said in an interview. “It’s all meant to make customer reviews more useful.”

The change, which started Friday, will probably go unnoticed at first, as the e-commerce giant’s new platform gradually starts altering the star ratings and top reviews on product pages. The new system will give more weight to newer reviews, reviews from verified Amazon purchasers and those that more customers vote up as being helpful.

A product’s 5-star rating, which previously was a pure average of all reviews, will also become weighted using those same criteria, and so may change more often.

. . . .

The new platform was something the company looked at “very closely” before instituting, Law said, though she declined to say how long Amazon had been developing it.

“It’s just meant to make things that much more useful,” Law said, “so people see things and know it reflects the current product experience.”

For example, sometimes a company will make small tweaks to a product or address some customer complaints, though this product isn’t officially updated or renamed. With the new system, Law said, these small modifications should become more noticeable when shoppers are buying products.

Link to the rest at C/Net and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Pamela Paul, Book Review Editor, Talks Shop

13 June 2015

From The New York Times:

“It feels terrible when it’s happening to you,” Pamela Paul, editor of The Book Review said when asked about the purpose of negative reviews in a conversation with C-Span’s Book TV. “But, you know what I remind myself when we have negative reviews is that we’re not a service arm for the publishing industry,” she said. “We’re here for the readers. And readers are trying to make a decision about what they should spend their time reading and their money buying if they’re buying a book.”

. . . .

“We review about 1 percent of the books that come out in print from a publisher every year. So 99 percent of those books are being discarded. At some point you kind of have to say, ‘O.K., we’re just going to look at these books,’ otherwise we would be here 24 hours,” Ms. Paul said.

. . . .

As for the $1 million question — Digital or print books? — here’s how Ms. Paul does her reading:

“I’m old school. I read 100 percent in print. I love the book as a physical object; I have thousands and thousands of books — I collect them. I am constantly building new bookshelves in my house,” she said.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

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