Today there’s a story floating around about an online dealer of products in auction websites known as “VIP Deals” which has been knocked out of business after its owner was found to be giving products away in exchange for good product reviews. While this might seem like a fair deal to those who come into said auction and multi-item sales just for the one item and out, the rules behind such sites expressly forbid such an action. Because this sort of situation leads to scams in which great ratings are trusted when they’re not precisely true, researchers like Bing Liu [seated at his desk in the image below] are on the case to stop the problem before it advances further.
What VIP Deals did was to take a $60 case for a tablet, reduce the price down to $10 USD, then include in the box in which it was shipped a slip of paper. This slip of paper noted how the person receiving the item might get a $10 refund (the entire list price) if they simply leave a review on the site they purchased it from. The note read thusly:
“In return for writing the review, we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free. … We strive to earn 100 percent perfect ‘FIVE-STAR’ scores from you!”
So 4,945 reviews later and VIP Deals is a powerhouse, able to sell a bridge to you in Brooklyn if you don’t head into their reviews and notice how insane they are. Thats why Bing Liu, also a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is currently in the process of devising a mathematical model (or set of models) that’ll systematically take apart scams such as this in the future.
“More people are depending on reviews for what to buy and where to go, so the incentives for faking are getting bigger. It’s a very cheap way of marketing.” – Liu
Too cheap, we’re thinking, and so thinks Liu and the law. Take them apart Liu, we’d much rather have the reality of good or bad product reviews than a few bucks off a case we do not need in the first place.