BBC Brasil article ‘Fake Reviews affecting online retailers’ – translated

English translation - see original article and images on BBC Brasil - click here

Fake Reviews affecting online retailers - authorities concerned

Thomas Pappone
BBC Brasil in London
Updated September 30, 2011 - 10:02 (GMT) 13:02 GMT

"My husband and I stayed at the James Chicago Hotel for our anniversary. This place is fantastic! Once we arrived we saw that we made the right choice! The rooms are beautiful and the hotel staff very helpful and wonderful! The location is great, since I love shopping. On the next visit to Chicago we will certainly come back to James to stay in Chicago. " *

The review above is false. Thousands of comments like that, supposedly written by tourists and posted on travel sites, were actually written by hotel owners or contractors for this service.

The proliferation of fake reviews, positive or negative, grew along with the popularization of electronic commerce, and today, besides causing great concern in the market - among traders, companies and consumers - is a matter of research and studies in universities.

This month, British and American newspapers warned on TripAdvisor, one of the main sites of reference for world travelers - who according to the company itself has 50 million users - the problem is gaining epidemic contours.

Chris Emmins, of consultancy KwikChex told BBC Brasil that Of the nearly 50 million reviews on the site, "about 10% to 20% may be false, and the number is rising," KwikChex assist with saving the reputation of hotels that are harmed by reviews written in bad faith on TripAdvisor.

"We have several cases of hotels (in the UK and the U.S.) who had sudden falls in their revenue and are on the verge of bankruptcy," says Emmins, citing alleged guest reviews that have been making accusations of racism, theft, assault or food poisoning.

"Many claims are demonstrably false. In some cases, gathering evidence that the authors (of reviews) were former employees, competitors or actual guests who behaved badly and were reprimanded in some cases with police intervention, and decided to take revenge writing false comments ".

In the UK these complaints resulted in the recent decision by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) - the authority that overseas all advertising in the UK, including investigating false and unfair advertising - to investigate TripAdvisor to see if the company can justify statements such as "honest reviews" and that these are written by "real travelers".

Asked by the BBC Brazil, Emma Shaw, spokeswoman for TripAdvisor, said the company does not disclose the number of reviews suspects detected by their system of filtering, but that this mechanism is "extremely efficient". "People always return to the site to search for travel because of the reviews and opinions that there are reliable," she says.

"The hotel owners that attempt to manipulate the system on TripAdvisor are rare, since the vast majority know the tremendous risk your reputation and your business run," Shaw said, adding that it "penalises" the hotels caught .

According to Shaw, to ensure the authenticity of the reviews, TripAdvisor uses sophisticated filters, monitors IP address, provides reviews "suspicion" pointed out by the consumers and has a team of 20 experts to deal only with review fraud.

Zagat

Experts do not tire to point out that consumers' views are worth gold in electronic commerce.

No wonder that a few weeks ago Google announced the purchase of Zagat, known review site of restaurants, nightclubs and attractions related to leisure and entertainment, for $ 125 million.

The reviews are written by consumers - 350,000 more than 100 countries, according to Zagat himself - and the site came to be called "The Food Guide's World's most trusted" news agency Associated Press.

On sites like Amazon, the largest online retailer in the world, the reviews written by consumers are seen as a marketing tool of the utmost importance, particularly in the sale of items such as books, CDs and electronics.

"Many studies show that these reviews are extremely important, that people buy products based on them," he told BBC Brazil Trevor Pinch, professor of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University in the United States.

Finch is the author of a study on the profile of "one thousand better" (Top 1000) of the Amazon reviewers consumers.

"The review of products appears to be partially persuasive in terms of sales because it allows the potential buyer to access the experiences and opinions of others who bought the same product or have an opinion about it," says the study.

"The fact that belief come from ordinary people rather than experts also part of that power of persuasion," the study follows.

Software

It was the widespread recognition of this importance that gave impetus to the proliferation of planted reviews.

According to American and British newspapers, there are numerous agencies that even offer internet services to write fake reviews - one author told the New York Times that he received $10 per positive review for books posted on Amazon.

This type of review, written deliberately to sound authentic, attracted the attention of researchers from another department at Cornell University who has developed software that, with a success rate of 90%, would be able to detect what they called "fraudulent spam Opinion".

As part of the study, researchers selected 800 reviews - 400 false, and another 400 genuine and submitted them to three "judges", who tried to discern false from true. Without success, however.

The researchers then set out to compare the semantics of the reviews, trying to identify possible leads in the construction of sentences, number of genres and the use of words.

They found, for example, that among the most obvious signs of "fraudulent reviews" are the overuse of adverbs (like "really" or "very") and the use of first person singular, which "may come from the need of authors to enhance the credibility of the reviews by focusing on their own participation in it. "

Chris Emmins of KwikChex, is skeptical about the practical use of the software at Cornell University - first presented at an annual meeting of the American Association of Computational Linguistics in June - and says that by revealing possible "signs" of false reviews, the researchers ended up unwittingly giving tips on how to make the review more difficult to detect.

"The sophistication, in particular for the positive reviews, is increasing," he says, recommending that people seek reviews from authors with "a long history of sending comments and are restrained and not 'unreasonable' in their consideration."

* False Review commissioned by the study authors 'Finding Opinion Deceptive Spam by Any Stretch of the Imagination', in Ott Mylee, Yejin Choi, Claire Cardie and Jeff Hancock, Department of Computer Science at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

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