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This is the personal weblog of Björn Ognibeni. I am a consultant for Digital Marketing Communications & Co-Founder of BuzzRank, living in Hamburg, Germany.

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Is Belkin buying fake reviews on Amazon for 65 Cents each? (Updated)

Well, looks like this is a pretty busy weekend for folks over at the PR department of peripherals maker Belkin. At least, it should be. On Friday night, Arlen Parsa, the author of "The Daily Background" blog has put up a very interesting posting. According to him, Belkin is actively & publicly (!?) looking for people who are willing to post fake product reviews on Amazon using - nice irony here - Amazon's Mechanical Turk service:
That’s a request from somebody named Mike Bayard to review a product and “give [it] a 100% rating (as high as possible).” It doesn’t matter if the reviewer doesn’t own the product or has never tried it– the requester has helpfully written, “Write as if you own the product and are using it.” It even goes a step further, asking the Mechanical Turk user to “Mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” once you post yours.” Users are paid 65 cents for every positive review they leave.

Those who wanted to earn the 65 cents were told to write positives reviews about products like this Belkin F5U301 CableFree 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub, which doesn't seem to have too many fans among unpaid reviewers so far. Arlen found dozens of similar requests on Mechanical Turk. All posted by someone called Mike Bayard and according to LinkedIn, there is a Mike Bayard working as a Business Development Representative for Belkin...!?

There is still no official statement, so let's take everything with a grain of salt. But if it is true, this could turn into a major problem for Belkin. I found the story this morning via Lummaland and it is already making its rounds on Digg, Techmeme et al. There is also a lot of Twitter chatter about it. Arlen contacted the Belkin PR people himself and is now waiting for an official reaction...

But how should Belkin react?

Just ignoring the whole thing is probably not a good idea and sending out a press release could alert mainstream media. Posting an "official comment" on Arlen's blog could be a way. But just leaving one comment wouldn't solve the problem. It would almost certainly lead to a lively discussion there which Belkin would have to participate in. Pretty risky. Especially because it would be on a website the company can't control. Depending on the truthfulness of the whole "affair" I am not sure, if there is a good solution. But if Belkin would have a company blog, that would be the perfect channel to address the issue... Unfortunately they don't...

Let's see what solution Belkin comes up with...

Update @ 23:20: Well, at least they are quick. Just 48 (weekend!) hours after the initial blog post, Belkin has released an official statement from their President Mark Reynoso (via Crunchgear). Basically a straight-forward apology and the expected "single perpetrator / isolated incident" explanation...
It was with great surprise and dismay when we discovered that one of our employees may have posted a number of queries on the Amazon Mechanical Turk website inviting users to post positive reviews of Belkin products in exchange for payment.

So far, so good. But is it enough to convince the angry mob to put down pitchforks & torches? I doubt it...

Update @ 20.01.2009: Someone claiming to be a Belkin employee has contacted Gizmodo and is saying that this isn't an isolated incident as Belkin's statement is trying to make us believe. Instead it "only scratches the surface of the shady tactics and slimy methods Belkin uses." If what he writes is true, then Belkin really needs to pay for good reviews...
Infact, our products are such junk, when an internal survey was done, it was found that the majority of Belkin employees purchased competitors products for home use, even with ours being offered free, as they are of such poor quality.

Oops...!? You can find the whole Gizmodo posting here.

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