Amazon has filed suit against four websites that allegedly sell phony product reviews that are placed on its main site, Amazon.com, marking the first time the company has taken legal action against such practices.
The Seattle-based online retailer filed the suit Wednesday in a Washington state court against a California man, Jay Gentile, who allegedly runs BuyAzonReviews.com, as well as several unknown parties running three other sites: BuyAmazonReviews.com, BayReviews.net and BuyReviewsNow.com.
"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," Amazon said in the suit.
Customer reviews have been a critical part of Amazon's business for over 20 years, with the written reviews and 5-star rating system providing buyers and sellers with a helpful form of accountability and sign of popularity and quality of products. But, like with any rating system, people try to work around it. Amazon says it has invested heavily with automated and manual controls to monitor the hundreds of millions of reviews on its site to maintain their authenticity and prevent reviews that may deceive customers.
"Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews," Amazon said in the suit.
An Amazon representative declined to comment, saying the company doesn't comment on active litigation.
Representatives of BuyAmazonReviews.com and BuyReviewsNow.com didn't immediately respond to emailed requests for comment. BuyAzonReviews.com appeared to no longer be accessible online.
GeekWire and the Seattle Times first reported on the suit.
The Seattle Times said it had an email interview with Mark Collins, the alleged owner of BuyAmazonReviews.com, who told the publication: "We are not selling fake reviews. however we do provide Unbiased and Honest reviews on all the products ... and this is not illegal at all."
The Amazon suit claims that BuyAzonReviews.com didn't even require a company to ship its products to its reviewers, suggesting those buying its services simply ship empty boxes or envelopes for tracking purposes. These reviewers would still post "glowing five-star reviews ... on products they never received," the suit claims. The other three sites, Amazon said, offer similar reviews for sale. On BuyReviewsNow.com, the price for written reviews starts at $80 and goes up to $600, depending on how many reviews a company wanted.
Amazon is claiming the sites violated its trademarks for misleading use of its logo and name, fair competition laws, anti-cybersquatting laws and other laws. It requests the sites cease and desist activities related to Amazon, provide information on each fake review created and the accounts of the people who paid for them, as well as financial damages.