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The Frankfurt Book Fair/Amazon sues fake reviewers

19 October 2015

We had intended to report on the Frankfurt Book FairWorld's largest trade fair for books; held annually mid-October at Frankfurt Trade Fair, Germany; First three days exclusively for trade visitors; general public can attend last two. this week, but all we have been able to glean so far is that it was a busy fair, with a great many successful rights deals, and the new layout of the Fair was generally liked.

Salman Rushdie spoke at the opening ceremony, saying freedom of speech is not just a human right but a "universal of the human race" which must be defended. The difficulty in the fight is "that publishers and writers are not warriors, we have not tanks", he said, "but it falls to us to hold the line". His presence meant that the Iranian delegation had withdrewn from the Fair in protest.

Meanwhile there was dramatic news from Seattle, where Amazon has filed a lawsuit with over 1,000 defendants, saying its brand reputation is being damaged by "false, misleading and inauthentic" reviews paid for by sellers seeking to improve the appeal of their products. The company sued a number of websites in April for selling fake reviews.

Amazon says the 1,114 defendants, termed "John Does" as the company does not yet know their real names, offer a false review service for as little as $5 (£3.24) on the website, with most promising five-star reviews for a seller's products. It said that fake review sellers had been attempting to avoid detection by using multiple accounts from unique IP addresses.

Anyone, whether they are a customer or not, has the ability to review products sold on Amazon's online store, but the rules of the site forbid paid-for or fictional reviews. The online retailer is also using algorithmic filtering to tackle the issue of fake product reviews and inflated star ratings, it was revealed earlier this year. According to Amazon, the artificial intelligence will bring more accurate reviews to the top, using them to create a star rating.

Previously, star ratings were simply an average of all reviews, which allowed fake reviews to heavily influence the first-glance rating, even if verified purchasers had slated the product.

In Britain, online reviews have also been "distorted" by the growth of a "clandestine" market of bogus reviews, reported the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the body responsible for market studies in the UK. Earlier this year, the CMA said reviews formed an important part of consumers' decision-making, with 54% of UK adults reading online reviews. It added that an amazing £23bn a year of UK consumer spending is potentially influenced by online reviews, across the six broad sectors analysed.