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Amazon's Real Name Badge of Courage

By marktaw in Technology
Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 04:34:19 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Amazon takes a bold step towards fixing their flawed & exploitable review system.

In the wake of the scandal where Amazon.ca accidentally revealed the identities of it's anonymous reviewers (Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers - NYTimes.com, free registration required), it seems Amazon has revised their review system.

From the NY Times article:

The weeklong glitch, which Amazon fixed after outed reviewers complained, provided a rare glimpse at how writers and readers are wielding the online reviews as a tool to promote or pan a book -- when they think no one is watching.

I always knew Amazon's review system was flawed & viewed many reviews with a skeptical eye, especially top 1000 reviewers: who has time to review that many products unless they're paid to do it? Also suspect were anonymous reviews, reviews by people without an "About" page, and empty glowing reviews that received too many votes.

I once read over 100 reviews for a book on marketing, with the vast majority of them being vapid, empty, and positively glowing, with a tiny minority telling the truth - there's nothing to the book. In fact, each of the positive reviews was a near carbon copy of the other, with just the sentance structure changed, the same way a high school student plagiarizes his reports by changing the wording of some other published article on the same subject.

Authors and publishers were exploiting Amazon to write glowing reviews of their own books & negative reviews of the competition.

Well, I'd just received a book in the mail with lots of glowing reviews - so many that I thought I was safe in ordering this book, but alas, this book was empty too & I decided to return it. While returning it, I also decided to write a review of it & stumbled on the following:

Create your Real Name

Amazon.com uses your Real Name to sign content that you submit. If you submit content under your Real Name you will receive a Real Name badge (see the example below).

Your Real Name will be displayed in your About You area and next to any reviews you submit, including those submitted in the past. Your Real Name will not be displayed with reviews submitted anonymously.

Amazon.com generates your Real Name options from the cardholder name on your credit card. You may also enter a personalized signature and your location, which will be displayed with your Real Name. Learn more about why we are doing this.

Example of a Real Name with a badge:

Jane Smith "book maven" (Seattle, WA USA)

So now reviews by real people will be noticed & it will be harder for publishers fake a mass of anonymous reviews or pseudononmyous reviews - they can still do it, but at least you can know when a real person is behind a review. It's not a perfect scheme (I can hire people to write reviews, and still get friends & family to do the same), but it's a step in the right direction & I applaud Amazon for taking this bold step.


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Amazon's Real Name Badge of Courage | 56 comments (38 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
Still abusable (1.50 / 6) (#11)
by b1t r0t on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 11:34:22 AM EST

So what's to stop them from doing exactly what we do to the New York Times by coming up with a bunch of bogus "real person" registrations? And then sharing the logins among their astrotrollers?

-- Indymedia: the fanfiction.net of journalism.
Read (none / 2) (#13)
by melia on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 12:15:18 PM EST

Amazon.com generates your Real Name options from the cardholder name on your credit card.

At a guess, it would possibly be a bit illegal to get a credit card with a 'bogus "real person" registration'
Disclaimer: All of the above is probably wrong
[ Parent ]

Not that hard. (none / 1) (#21)
by acceleriter on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 09:42:20 PM EST

Look here for example.

[ Parent ]
I wonder... (none / 1) (#23)
by marktaw on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 01:57:37 AM EST

What you use for your billing address on one of those things. You can also order a credit card in any name, they don't care because the primary card holder is still responsible for all charges.

[ Parent ]
IIRC, the recipient address . . . (none / 1) (#30)
by acceleriter on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 10:58:45 AM EST

. . . is given at the time of purchase and will match as a billing address in the authorization system. Of course, this address need not be real, since the card number is delivered by email.

[ Parent ]
Authorized users (none / 3) (#31)
by acceleriter on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 11:00:39 AM EST

Have you ever actually tried to order an extra credit card in an arbitrary name? It's been awhile since I looked into that, and I never ordered one myself, but Amex at least required name, SSN, DOB, etc.--I imagine that particuarly with the PATRIOT Act, they're not just handing out cards to whatever name the cardholder gives, unless, as you say, they don't care since it can all be traced to the primary holder anyway. (-2, run on sentence)

[ Parent ]
Not the point (none / 1) (#26)
by melia on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 06:42:20 AM EST

Your link didn't work (probably my shit internet though) - but anyway, the point is that this new system probably (I haven't read your link :) ups the stakes to the point where it's not worth posting a bogus "real name" review. I.e., I didn't mean it was impossible to do, just that it would be so much effort and risk that it's no longer worth it.
Disclaimer: All of the above is probably wrong
[ Parent ]
True. (none / 0) (#29)
by acceleriter on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 10:57:04 AM EST

It does raise the bar, but for $25, I can get a credit card in any name I want (Mickey Mouse might raise an eyebrow). That's the name that will be used when Amazon decides what your "real name" is. Now all this is traceable--you wouldn't be able to hide from law enforcement behind this kind of card (else it wouldn't be allowed to exist), but it's more than sufficient obfuscation for something like Amazon reviews.

[ Parent ]
Is this astroturf? (1.25 / 4) (#14)
by grouse on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 12:15:25 PM EST

You know astroturf about fighting astroturf? Hey, where's your Real Name?

You sad bastard!

"Grouse please don't take this the wrong way... To be quite frank, you are throwing my inner Chi out of its harmonious balance with nature." -- Tex Bigballs

:P (none / 2) (#18)
by marktaw on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 04:08:55 PM EST

My nickname here & my sig lead to my website, where you can learn all you want to about me, including my real name. I'm the same way on Amazon.

[ Parent ]
Interesting. (2.83 / 6) (#15)
by mcc on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 12:36:14 PM EST

An interesting possibility to me is, if this technology becomes established, Amazon might wind up allowing other sites to use their "Real names" database, with Amazon simply acting as a central "identity server".

For example, certain online discussion sites have in the past had trouble with keeping people banned because persons can simply create as many new accounts as they like. Requiring accounts on such discussion sites to be tied to an Amazon.com Realname, while unpalatable from a privacy rights perspective, would certainly go a very long way toward remedying this problem, as creating a dupe account would actually require engaging in identity fraud.

Aside from that, the absurd meta-wankery of k5er-quoting sigs probably takes the cake. Especially when the quote itself is about k5. -- tsubame

Definate Possibility (2.85 / 7) (#17)
by marktaw on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 04:07:23 PM EST

This is similar to a certain women's online discussion forum that required a real phone number, where they really called you & really talked to you before allowing you to become a member. It kept the number of lurking guys down to a minimum.

[ Parent ]
"Definite" (n/t) (none / 1) (#50)
by Qwaniton on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 03:10:51 PM EST

I don't think, therefore I
[ Parent ]
many cases of that (none / 3) (#19)
by khallow on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 07:40:50 PM EST

I know of many cases (particularly when some types of collusion between parties are prohibited) where this would come in handy. And if it isn't Microsoft passport, it should be quite handy.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

-1 who the hell cares about amazon reviews (1.72 / 11) (#22)
by ajaxx on Sat Jul 24, 2004 at 09:50:45 PM EST

seriously.  anyone who uses product reviews posted on the site doing the selling gets what they deserve.

note that it's entirely possible for amazon themselves to spoof this system, boosting or hindering the sales of the books they like / don't like.

Well that's the whole point. (none / 1) (#24)
by marktaw on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 02:00:46 AM EST

Amazon sells so many damned products, that you expect them to steer you away from the bad products & towards the good ones. There's enough out there, and they don't care which you buy because either way they make money.

The very fact that there's "community involvement" implies that the reviews are supposed to be impartial.

[ Parent ]

name one impartial community on the internet (none / 1) (#33)
by ajaxx on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 12:44:52 PM EST

no, the fact that there's community involvement implies that the reviews are supposed to be from the community.  the people who post reviews on amazon will generally fall into one of two categories:
  • people with more money than brains, who shop from amazon continuously to fill the gaping hole in their lives
  • people with an agenda about the product in question
neither of which opinion matters to me.  in fact, nobody's opinion matters to me.  when i shop online - or in meatspace for that matter - i expect the retailer to sell me what i'm looking for, as opposed to tell me what i'm looking for.  i already have more things to buy than money.

[ Parent ]
Ditto, With Clarifications (2.50 / 4) (#32)
by Peahippo on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 12:18:48 PM EST

If you make a purchasing decision on the basis of trumped-up reviews, then you deserve what you get. If you can't detect such fraud, you need to spend some time learning to become wise.

I went through a bunch of reviews for a so-called pro-gun book on Amazon, and it was obvious that the anti-gun crowd had showed up and had determinedly spammed the review with their rhetoric. The key to identifying that kind of thing was that there was heavy rhetoric and very little critical language ... kind of like what you hear every time GWB speaks.

[ Parent ]
It might still helps to find the books you like (none / 0) (#58)
by Azmodan on Thu Sep 23, 2004 at 01:56:50 AM EST

Often the reviews telling something is bad are what tells you exactly why YOU want it.  So far, I liked the book I bought based on bad mods :)

[ Parent ]
Interesting (none / 2) (#27)
by wejn on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 07:31:25 AM EST

Maybe we'll see more of real interviews for newly published books ...

Nice of them, considering price of the books for non-U.S. residents :)

Making a difference (2.92 / 14) (#28)
by adimovk5 on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 08:09:34 AM EST

Real Names won't make a difference unless Amazon allows readers to filter out other reviews. In other words, there should be an option to read only Real Names opinions and hide the rest. Otherwise, I will still be forced to wade through garbage to find the real opinions and the crapflooders will be able to achieve their goals.

amazon (1.21 / 14) (#35)
by Henri Lebesgue on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 01:44:09 AM EST

once upon a time, a long time ago when Amazon wasn't turning a profit (heh), i had a horrible experience with amazon. I purchased an expensive text book for school and classes were 1 week away.

"no problem" the customer service attendant says. "It'll be there on time."

Classes started. No book. I called Amazon. They said it was in shipping. They give me a UPS tracking number.

Classes pass 1 week. No book. Two missed homework assignments. Called UPS regarding tracking number. Said there's no record.

Then I call Amazon. They insist it'll be here the next day or the day after that.

Long story short, I got the book after 2 mis-sends (UPS's fault, they say, of course). I got a 0% on one test and missed 12 homework assignments. I ended up failing the class, all because of Amazon's incompetency.

An open set S containing disjoint intervals is said to be Lebesgue Measurable if U.L(s) = sum(k, bk - ak).

hey jackass (1.12 / 8) (#37)
by Henri Lebesgue on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 01:50:36 AM EST

you've obviously never been to a (real) college. Most college textbooks cost money, and a lot of money at that. I am a student, and I do not have a lot of money, and since Amazon already took money for the book they allegedly sent to me, I could not afford to shell out another $200 for another book. So fuck off, you rich white snob.

An open set S containing disjoint intervals is said to be Lebesgue Measurable if U.L(s) = sum(k, bk - ak).
[ Parent ]
you obviously don't understand responsibility (none / 2) (#40)
by Blarney on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 01:55:42 AM EST

When a poor person, already on the edge of failure, is pushed over by some circumstance that he could have forseen were he omniscient, that means that he is irresponsible. Vote for bush.

[ Parent ]
irresponsible indeed (none / 0) (#59)
by hognoxious on Mon Oct 11, 2004 at 07:23:30 AM EST

that means that he is irresponsible

I suspect you think that word has a different meaning to the one it really has.

-- Slash: got no birds, just foilhatters.
[ Parent ]

Can you say (none / 1) (#48)
by lukme on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 07:03:52 AM EST

Library - ever check out a book or read a different book on a subject other than the text? (note: most universitys I have been have put the text on reserve in their library)

Classmate - ever borrow and photocopy a classmate's text so while you wait for your copy to come in the mail?

Professor - ask the professor to borrow the text to photocopy it.

Lecture - ever go to one of the lectures for this class that you failed? Most classmates and professors are willing to help people who attend and pay attention in lecture.

I bet having the textbook would not have helped you in that course.

It's awfully hard to fly with eagles when you're a turkey.
[ Parent ]
talk to the prof... (none / 0) (#55)
by kpaul on Fri Jul 30, 2004 at 11:35:13 PM EST

most of them aren't monsters. explain the situation and i'm sure he or she would've understood and worked with you...

wht do i know, though, i have five years of college and no degree because i lack a walking class (PE) and speech class. ;)


2014 Halloween Costumes
[ Parent ]

what kind of "real" college (none / 0) (#56)
by Work on Sat Jul 31, 2004 at 05:30:19 PM EST

doesnt have a library?

Any, and every, textbook a "real" college uses will be freely available in the library.

And theres always the whole "making friends" idea.

[ Parent ]

use the library (none / 0) (#57)
by Delirium on Thu Aug 12, 2004 at 11:46:55 AM EST

Just about any real college will have copies of all textbooks they use in the library. They generally don't allow them to be checked out or everyone would do that instead of buying the book, but you can go use them at the library for 2 hours at a time or something.

Either that, or find someone else in the class who has the book.

[ Parent ]

fundamental attribution error if i ever saw it (2.50 / 6) (#45)
by the77x42 on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 02:26:41 AM EST

"We're not here to educate. We're here to point and laugh." - creature
"You have some pretty stupid ideas." - indubitable ‮

[ Parent ]
actor-observer bias (none / 1) (#53)
by minotaurcomputing on Tue Jul 27, 2004 at 02:52:53 PM EST

Now how is he going to be able to look up the meaning of that.... he's still waiting for that book from Amazon.
# http://www.modus-ponens.com
# http://www.minotaurcomputing.com

[ Parent ]
Good fucking lord (1.00 / 19) (#46)
by The Muffin on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 02:39:13 AM EST

In case you didn't notice, the people in thie country who don't make most of the money? You know, most of us? Yeah, we got shafted by the "tax cuts". Just a little FYI

- This is the end.
WTF (none / 1) (#47)
by The Muffin on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 02:40:25 AM EST

They really should make it so that not picked topical or editoral when replying to a comment doesn't toss you back into the root thread.

- This is the end.
[ Parent ]
Giving out one's legal name online.... (3.00 / 6) (#49)
by astraea on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 01:55:04 PM EST

This is also a meaningless step for reviewers such as ourselves who are resistant to revealing our legal names on line. We're not anonymous on amazon, but we don't use the legal name. Giving out one's legal name online is a risky business at best. Perhaps Amazon could find another means of verification, if they care. Anthony Temple

I Agree (none / 0) (#51)
by marktaw on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 05:58:59 PM EST

Which is why I didn't use the Amazon Real Name Badge, but my well known & widely used pseudonym.

[ Parent ]
who has time to review that many products? (none / 1) (#52)
by danny on Tue Jul 27, 2004 at 01:33:28 AM EST

who has time to review that many products unless they're paid to do it?

I'm not in Harriet Klausner's league, but I've reviewed over 800 books in the last decade - and that includes more reviews of some meaty technical non-fiction and fewer one paragraph reviews of romance novels.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]

Subjective vs objective reviews (2.66 / 3) (#54)
by gidds on Tue Jul 27, 2004 at 10:40:10 PM EST

Ah, but I tend to ignore reviews which only say whether something is good or bad. Such things are so subjective that I probably won't agree with the reviewer anyway.

Where reviews are useful is in more objective things: for CDs, that might be how a CD relates to others by the same artist or in the same genre; whether it's a good place to start with that artist, or for completists only; what other artists it's similar to; whether the material is original or previously released; the theme or concept (if any); who was involved in making it; that sort of thing. All of that can be useful in deciding whether to purchase, and is largely independent of whether the reviewer liked it or not.

Subjective opinion can be useful, but only if there's a 'normalisation'. For example, if a reviewer raves about the CD, and also mentions another CD I hate and raves about that, then I know I'm unlikely to enjoy this one. But unconnected subjective opinion is pretty worthless as far as I'm concerned.

Maybe if more people felt the way I did, then astroturf reviews wouldn't be such a problem?


Top 1000 != 1000 reviews posted (none / 0) (#60)
by corebreach on Tue Jan 25, 2005 at 10:21:12 PM EST

When an Amazon user is flagged as a "Top 1000 Reviewer" it just means that the ratings recieved from their reviews (Was this review helpful to you? Y/N) has ranked them in the top 1000 non-anonymous users based on positive feedback.

Amazon's Real Name Badge of Courage | 56 comments (38 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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