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The Seattle Times reports that Amazon is instituting a new policy on user reviews, "prohibiting most reviews made in exchange for free or discounted products." These so-called "incentivized reviews" have been tolerated in the past as long as the incentives were disclosed, but that no longer will be the case.

The story notes that "books are also an exception, with merchants and publishers still allowed to send out advance copies of books.

"The move highlights how customer reviews have become a major currency on Amazon’s site, as they are a big guide in purchasing decisions — and how the company endeavors to ensure these reviews remain trustworthy." And the Times writes that Amazon has developed "a new algorithm that gives preference to 'newer, more helpful' reviews."
KC's View:
As an Amazon shopper who pays attention to user reviews, I am all in favor of a policy that insures that endorsements are not bought and paid for, and that even negative reviews are relevant and useful. This means creating algorithms that monitor what is posted on the site - as a customer, I don't want to have to dig through a lot of crap to get to the stuff that helps me make buying decisions.

It was interesting that this algorithm actually got a lot of attention in a different context a few weeks ago, when it was revealed that Amazon took down more than a thousand negative reviews of "Stronger Together," essentially a campaign manifesto that lists Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as its co-authors. There was a ton of stuff out there accusing Jeff Bezos of stifling free speech to support the Clinton presidential campaign, with subject lines saying "Bias Alert!" all over the place.

There was a piece about this in the New Republic that the reason the reviews were deleted was that "they’re mostly a series of tired jokes about how Hillary Clinton likes to kill people and also is sick, and Amazon deletes reviews that aren’t about the product in question. While Amazon didn’t do much to stop fake reviews for its first 15 years of existence, the company stepped up its game starting in 2012, when it began aggressively deleting fake reviews. Over the past year, it has sued over fake reviews on at least two occasions. (Ironically, the publishing industry criticized Amazon for not doing enough to stop fake reviews until fairly recently.)

"Clinton and Kaine’s book deserves to be savaged. It is a very bad book and there is absolutely no reason for it to exist. Sixteen dollars for a glorified platform is preposterous when you can get all of the information in the book—most of which means next to nothing—for free online. It begins vacuously (its first two sentences are: “It has been said that America is great because America is good. We agree.”) and doesn’t get better from there. But the idea that Amazon is protecting Clinton is silly, and that’s coming from an Amazon skeptic."

And the irony is that right now, the rankings on Amazon for the Clinton-Kaine book actually are lower than they were before Amazon culled out the irrelevant ones. But they're more about the book.