Belkin in "astroturfing" furore

January 19, 2009 | 12:42

Tags: #astroturfing #mechanical-turk

Companies: #amazon #belkin

Electronics manufacturer Belkin has found itself at the centre of a public relations furore with the news that the company has been hiring people to write false 5-star reviews of its products on shopping websites.

First spotted by The Daily Background – via Engadget – the evidence comes in the form of a posting on Amazon's Mechanical Turk site – which offers “artificial artificial intelligence,” allowing companies to pay small sums of money to hire individuals to perform mundane or repetitive tasks – from Belkin's Mike Bayard asking for people to “write a positive 5/5 review for [a] product on [a] website.

The advert goes on to request that users wanting to get their hands a whole 65¢ US – that's a massive 44p at current exchange rates – write their review “as if you own the product and are using it” while giving the Belkin product “a 100% rating (as high as possible.)” Bayard even asks respondents to “mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” when you post yours.

While the phenomenon of companies paying people to create fake grass-roots support for their products or services – known as astroturfing – isn't new, this is the first time a company has been quite so blatant. Identified as a “business development representative at Belkin”, Bayard has created dozens of jobs on the Mechanical Turk site – all asking for people to create false reviews regarding products they neither own nor use.

Since the news of Belkin's shenanigans went public, Bayard – or someone higher up – has deleted all the jobs requests from the Mechanical Turk website – along with his profile on social networking site LinkedIn. Despite this clear admission that the company has been caught with its kimono open, Belkin has yet to come forward with an official statement regarding its activities.

Do you trust reviews on sites such as Amazon or when purchasing products, or has this just confirmed what you've always long suspected? Should Belkin be allowed to get away with misleading its customers in this way? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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