Saturday, 30 March 2013

How Amazon is enabling cyber stalking.

NOTE: Please do not engage this person in any way; do not respond to her reviews, do not leave her a 1 star review. I attracted this stalkers ire by defending another author, and I would hate for my friends to receive the same treatment. This is up to Amazon and the police to handle so for your own sakes, please DO NOT ENGAGE! 

At the beginning of March, there was an author on the kindle boards acting like a troll. they went by the username 'Gabe'. This troll swore at a friend of mine and demanded proof of her success, which I took issue with. I agreed with her statement, posted a link to my books as my proof and told him I would report any new 1 star reviews. Sure enough, one appeared about an hour later from a Jenny M. I didn't bother to report it as I honestly didn't affect my average, plus I had no proof that Jenny M and Gabe were the same person, so I let it slide. I did however, take a screencap of that whole thread, just in case.



A few days later, while checking someone else's books to see how they could improve their sales, I noticed he only had 1 review and that it was 1 star. I felt awful for him and went to see what it said but the first thing I noticed was that this so called "reviewer" uses the handle Jenny M. The same Jenny M who had also left me a 1 star review. Neither review was a verified purchase.

Amazon Behaving Badly
Suspicions rising, I looked at her profile and discovered that of the 6 reviews she had up, none were verified and 4 were fellow kindle board authors.

I pointed this out on the boards, along with my suspicions that the troll was the author of these reviews, and most were reported and removed. The trolls reaction to this post only confirmed my suspicions that Gabe was Jenny M.

She then started getting creative, changing her review on my book from 1 star to 5, then back and all sorts. I kept reporting it, good or bad; it disappeared then reappeared, usually with a new rating or new text but always the original date. The other 3 reviews were permanently taken down, but mine was not.

She then left 1 star review on two other books of mine, again neither were verified purchases. They were removed after being reported.

Then things went quiet, Gabe was banned from the KDP boards, resurfaced a few times with new accounts but finally seemed to die off.

Then I get this email

I plan to read all your books, I will make sure to rate them 1 star over and over again. I already know I will rate them 1 star because I can tell your books suck. You may even be the worst rated author on Amazon by the time I am through with reading your garbage) I will also make sure all my friends on Amazon read your books and I know they will hate your work. I bet they will give you 1 star reviews as well. You are pretty rude online and now your books may get 1 star reviews. There is nothing wrong here, everyone is allowed to rate products whether they have used them or not. Amazon is great! I hope you dont whine like a pig when someone gives you a bad review. You like being rude online and now your readers are going to be rude right back at you. See you have to be polite online but you were rude to me, for no reason.  Unless you apologize, I might just post many 1 star reviews on all you products. Amazon allows it, so you better suck up and apologize for your rude conduct online. Unless you want to lose sales lolll.................

Although unsigned, the email said it was from Sabrina R. (timmies2000@hotmail.com)

I didn't know who Sabrina was and hadn't interacted with any fans for a long time, so I was stumped.

I decide to do some searching and find out that timmies2000 sells amazon reviews on a site called fourerr, six reviews for $4.

Very odd.

Later I logged onto amazon to see my sales stats (I'm recording them to see if I can find trends or patterns) and found I had a new review, 1 star from Sabrina Reynolds, as did another of my books. This was presumably the same Sabrina R who emailed me. I checked her profile to see if she had made good on her threat and left reviews on all my works, only to discover that Sabrina was actually Jenny! Same reviews on the same books and the name on my original 1 star review from Jenny, had changed to Sabrina Reynolds too. Coincidence? I didn't think so. Gabe was Jenny M, was Sabrins Reynolds, was timmies2000.

I reported the reviews and contacted Amazon, copying the threatening email into my message, adding that Sabrina/Jenny/Gabe was selling reviews on fourrer. I even gave them her IP address from the email header so they could check it against the IP she logged onto Amazon from. in case her account here had a different email associated with it.

And nothing happened.

Later that day, her profile name changed back to Jenny M and for a while, the profile said Sabrina Reynolds while the actual reviews on her page had changed back to Jenny M. As if I needed any more proof.

I'm absolutely appalled that Amazon can let people use their review system to harass authors, or any other amazon user. The fact that her good reviews are clearly bought but haven't been deleted is just beyond belief!

Added to that, about 6 of my recent reviews on my new novel keep disappearing or changing username, often within a day or two of going up. I don't know exactly who left them as I don't remember their names, so I can't contact them to ask why they were taken down. Is this Jenny's friends? Since she offers to leave 6 fake reviews in her fourerr adverts, I must assume that she has at least 6 amazon accounts... but the reviews were mostly good as far as I recall... why would she leave me 1 star, then 4 and 5 star reviews, then remove the good ones?

Her adverts for amazon reviews on the fourerr site have now been removed (Google cachet still had those pages though and I screencapped them). Did Amazon tell her they knew? Is she leaving me fake reviews and reporting them to try and discredit me, or to get my books taken down, or even my account suspended?

Am I blowing this out of proportion? Because if there a valid reason that half a dozen reviews to appear and disappear over a few days, I'd like to know it.

Tonight I discovered that she had uploaded another two 1 star reviews on my books, once again, not verified purchases. Now she's emailed me again, clearly trying to bait me into a flame war.

Total rubbish! Wasted my time! Can't believe my friend had this in their library. Horrible work indeed. The author should stick with what they are good at. This was very badly written and I think it was written by a teenager. I can't describe how boring this is...just awful.


I was not impressed with this. I thought it was slow and boring. I really don't see the point of it. It should be rewritten by a professional. The author did a very bad job at writing this. The author must be dyslexic or something cause there are plenty of errors. 1 star unless it is rewritten.

Exactly how many of her friends and relatives have my books in their library? The one that mentions her 'friends library' was on my book How to Train your Zombie, which is by far my worst selling book, and for which I have sold exactly 2 paperback copies. What are the chances her 'friend' bought one of those two?

I guess she looked on my profile (which does appear on my book pages) and saw that I was dyslexic. Isn't it discrimination to make fun of learning disabilities?

Quite simply, this is cyber stalking and harassment, and Amazon are allowing it!

Yes, I know in terms of stalking, this isn't bad, and I know that no matter how many bad reviews she leaves, it wont ruin my career (they reduce my overall rating by about 0.2 or something) but as someone who actually has been stalked and suffers from a touch of PTSD, this troll is bringing all those bad memories flooding back. Some stranger on the internet is being allowed to stalk me, to try and derail my books and a company like Amazon is allowing it. What kind of world are we living in?

I've had enough of this shit! I emailed what's below to amazon again and if this harassment doesn't stop, I will be talking to the police. I don't deserve to have sleepless nights, reliving some of the worst times in my life, just because some troll doesn't like that I discovered her ruse, and Amazon don't seem to mind being a party to cyberharassment.

This reviewer is leaving bad reviews on every single one of my books, without reading any of them. I can understand not liking one book, but I find it beyond believe that she (or her "sister") keeps buying books by an author she doesn't like. Are we to assume that both she and her sister are some kind of masochists, who enjoy spending their money on and reading bad books? 
 Considering that not one single review of her reviews (not just those on my products) is a verified purchase, I think it obvious that she is not a genuine reviewer. I'm sure your records of her purchases can verify this. She has even contacted me by email to threaten this action. I did not respond to her threats, reasoning that you could easily see that her reviews were blatantly fake and that she has never purchased any of the products she reviews, but despite already having removed 2 of her reviews on my work, you wont remove the other 5 or suspend her reviewing privileges! 
 She does your review service a disservice by so blatantly misusing it. 
 Added to that evidence, her profile name keeps changing, first to Stephanie Reynolds, then back to Jenny M. Is that normal behaviour for a genuine reviewer, to change christian names AND surnames, then change them back? 
 Then there is the fact that this review has been altered multiple times from 1 star to 5 stars and back again. 
 How can you not see that this is a vendetta against me. I don't know this person but they obviously has some kind of grudge against me and Amazon are allowing her harassment. 
 I have been advised to call the police over her threatening email and her activity on here and if you cannot stop her harassment on your site, then I think I will have to. It's bad enough to be threatened but to have someone actively try and sabotage my career is crossing the line, and I am throughly appalled that you are enabling her cyber stalking. 
 Kind regards, 
 Catherine Winchester

From what I read when they began their review purge (after 2 authors admitted they paid for reviews to be left on their books last year) Amazon aren't above deleting reviews and suspending review privileges without explanation.

What more evidence do they need to stop this troll? A confession from her, signed in my blood?

I know for a fact that I am not the only person this has happened to. People have told me of ex's and former friends deliberately leaving malicious reviews on their books, and yet even with a personal connection to the author, Amazon does nothing. If a friend or family member leaves a good review however, that that sucker won't see the light of day!

Either your review system is beyond reproach or it isn't, Amazon. You cant delete good reviews but not malicious ones and if you don't want to police reviews, then only allow verified purchasers to leave reviews and problem solved! Buying reviews will seriously rise in cost and people will be much less likely to  leave malicious ones if they have to part with some cash first.

ETA 1/4/13: Amazon has removed 4 of her reviews from my works (the original review, the most suspicious one of all since it's rating changes from 1 to 5 stars, remains) and they say they are investigating her. I'm not hopeful that she'll be stopped any time soon.

She has also emailed me twice more today, trying to goad me into a fight.
"Your book business doesnt look like it is doing too well."
"wowwwwww, looks like one of ur books really took a hit... i guess peoples bad reviews took its toll... u must have lost some good $ well, sucks to be u eh loll... hopefully all the bad reviews get removed, u r losing a lot of business, u dont deserve that much punishment from readers gees... oh well thats life.. everyone with a big mouth such as urs needs a little disciplin...hahaaa"
Um, I think maybe she needs her eyes tested! I may not be as happy as a pig in shit, but I'm probably as happy as this lil doggie.


ETA2 2/4/3: It has come to my attention from other people on the Amazon general boards, that she is a fellow author, publishing under the name T.C Golding. She has posted spam adverts to her books under the names Jenny M, Sabrina Reynolds and G Faso. She has also been leaving messages, harassing the reviewers of a rival book, by Joseph Veillon as well as leaving him 1 star reviews.

ETA3 2/4/13: I had a reply from amazon about the first review, the one that has changed from 1 to 5 stars and back on 2 different occasions.

"I've read the review titled "Very Boring. I am glad I did not purchase" for the book titled "The Reluctant Duchess". I understand your concerns, but the review doesn't violate our posted guidelines, so I'm unable to remove it in its current format. 
However, as the author of this title, you can provide feedback about this review by voting or commenting on it. To vote, click the "Yes" or "No" buttons next to "Was this review helpful to you?" To comment, click the Comments link at the bottom of the review. 
We try to encourage our customers to give their honest opinions on our products while staying within our guidelines. As a retailer we are interested in cultivating a diversity of opinion on our products. Part of that is allowing our customers to air their honest thoughts on items they have received. Here's a link to our guidelines for reference: 
http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines/ 
We appreciate your understanding. We hope to see you again soon."

How can a review which changed rating so drastically be considered genuine? It's madness!

That review doesn't particularly hurt my rating as I have 21 other, genuine reviews on that book, but how can they not see that this is a vendetta? At this stage, it just beggars belief.

ETA 4 2/4/13: All her bad reviews are back, plus 7 new one star reviews. Thats a 1 star review on every book I have written.

Doesn't this girl have a life? Silly question, of course she doesn't.

She also tried harassing me through this blog so for the time being, anon reviews have been disabled. Sorry for those of you who don't have a google account. Feel free to email me or contact me through twitter.

ETA 5 2/4/13: Finally, Amazon have removed all her reviews on my books, although her account remains live. How long until they come back? Place your bets!

ETA 6 2/4/13: I was pointed in the direction of this articel on a new phenominon, review swarming, simlar to the episode I noted here, where readers posted bad reviews, bemoaning the lack on an ebook option.

Its impossible to say definitivley if this "swarm" affected the MJ biography sales, but I know not to upset any Michael Jackson fans in the future... and to always release an ebook version.

Amazon's reaction to the malicious reviews in both cases seems again, somewhat lacklustre.

Once more, I am forced to conclude that only allowing verified purchasers to leave a review is the best way to go. It won't intirely stop good or bad fake reviews, but people will be much less likley to leave a bad review if they have to shell out for a book they have already decided that they don't like. It would also help to curb bought and friend or family reviews.


12 comments:

  1. This is absolutely terrible. It's harassment like nothing I've ever seen and I'm not a published author. But as a writer, it's scares the crap out of me that behavior such as this is allowed to happen by Amazon, and that reviews are sold or paid for.

    I'm sorry you have to go through crap like this and I hope it can be resolved soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Morrighan.

      You know, I'm not even mad at her; to be trying to bait a stranger into a flame war she obviously has an unfulfilling life, but Amazon should know better than to allow it.

      Delete
  2. I'm so sorry this happened to you! I've experienced the 'swarm' effect on one of my books that had a few typos. My traditionally published books have typos, but nobody says anything. My e-book had a typo and every single reviewer seemed to feel the need to weigh in on whether it was too bad to read once they'd seen a typo on page 14. UGH. REALLY???

    45 reviews later, I'm still getting people responding to the trolls, defending the book. That's great, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People are strange creatures, aren't they.

      I expect Amazon will do something about it, only when the negative publicity gets too great.

      Delete
  3. Amazon should do away with the star system as a staring point and then have the balls to delete what are deliberate malicious reviews. 2013 will be the year of the Troll as we see a change from just Sock Puppet Five star reviews to a mass of troll reviews. Often as Indie authors bash each other or established publishers try to fight for their market share by making sure new authors books are hit before they have a chance to take off. Amazon is brewing up a troll pandemic and will ultimately pay the price if they do not find a way to control what is happening. The end result is that reviews will be completely worthless as customers turn away from them. Recent stats has 60% of Amazon reviews as fake...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Amazon should do away with the star system as a staring point and then have the balls to delete what are deliberate malicious reviews. 2013 will be the year of the Troll as we see a change from just Sock Puppet Five star reviews to a mass of troll reviews. Often as Indie authors bash each other or established publishers try to fight for their market share by making sure new authors books are hit before they have a chance to take off. Amazon is brewing up a troll pandemic and will ultimately pay the price if they do not find a way to control what is happening. The end result is that reviews will be completely worthless as customers turn away from them. Recent stats has 60% of Amazon reviews as fake...

    ReplyDelete
  5. As an honest reviewer, I just hate to hear things like this. Obviously people like this are giving all reviewers a bad name. However, as much as I understand, only allowing authorized purchasers of a product to review it will not really help the problem. What about those of us who receive ARCs from the publisher or author? Or to whom the author directly sent a copy? Or if we've picked up the book elsewhere? While I pick up or am gifted a lot of my books from Amazon, they certainly are not all from there, so that would defeat the purpose for those authors who have asked me to post that review for them and I would be unable to post the review on the site where it is most likely to do them some good (assuming I liked the book, and I don't accept books for review that I don't think I'll like).

    This whole thing is a travesty, and Amazon recommending you respond using a comment to a review is madness. Never do that, as it will just give them an excuse to point it out to their friends and say, 'OH, this author attacks reviewers!! Freedom of speech!!!" *snort* Just flag it and report it, not that it does much good.

    Again, I'm very sorry this happened to you. A lot of people are starting to (FINALLY) notice what's going on and hopefully the pressure will finally force Amazon to take some kind of action on the trolls that infest its site...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not an easy problem to solve, and I have given this a lot of thought.

      You already have to have made a purchase (of anything) in order to leave a review on amazon

      Perhaps as well as that, only accounts over a certain age can post reviews, although those sites/people that sell reviews could just set up an account, then allow it to sit dormant until the time limit has expired.

      Another idea would be to have a minimum spend on an account before reviews can be posted. If you use amazon sellers, it'd be pretty easy to reach a $100 spending limit by just buying a pair of nice shoes but then again, if you only buy books, especially ebooks, it could take forever to reach $100 at $2.99ish per ebook. Readers who perhaps can only afford to buy 0.99c books would have an even harder time. Unless the spending limit was ridiculously low, it would be almost impossible to implement without implementing a class system. The rich get to leave reviews, the poor/working classes don't, or they have to wait months or even years before they earn that right.

      Perhaps the best solution would be to automatically remove reviews with more than say, 10 unhelpful votes, or 90% or higher voted unhelpful, but for self pubbers like me, it can be hard enough to get reviews, let alone 10 people to see, recognise as fake and vote down a malicious review.

      And again, those authors who are willing to pay for fake reviews, or those with a decent twitter following/fanbase, could simply purchase X down votes, or ask fans to down vote a review that they don't like, even if it's honest and truthful.

      Amazon could personally review reviews with lots of down votes but I can't even begin to imagine how many reviews are posted each and every day. Amazon.com has 5 to 9 million visits a day (it varies by day and time of year). If only 0.1% of that days visitors left a review (1 in every thousand people) that would be 5,000 to 9,000 new reviews per day. Personally overseeing even just the complained about reviews, would require hiring a lot more personnel to manage the review service, which would drive amazon's costs up. That money is unlikely to be passed onto customers, therefore they may lower the earnings for authors and publishing houses. It would especially hurt self pubbed and indie press, whose profit margins are already slim.

      Amazon seem to be overzealous in removing suspect good reviews, but I suppose that's better than allowing good fake/bought reviews that paint an inaccurate picture. Perhaps it would be better to be overzealous with the possibly fake bad reviews too, then at least by the law of averages, the picture painted overall would be more accurate. Of course, losing even a single good or bad review can disproportionately affect a less popular book, which probably only has a handful of reviews to begin with, such as indie press, self pub or special interest books.

      I don't know what the answer is, only that something does need to be done, but there is no perfect solution.

      And this is not a problem unique to Amazon, trolling is something that effects the whole internet, from amazon, to twitter, to facebook, to Ask.fm. Things such as anonymous and 4chan can be a force for good, or a force for bad but either way, our laws and business practices need to catch up to the new technology.

      Delete
  6. I have email from Amazon that says 1-star, no read attack reviews do not violate their guidelines.
    I have email from Amazon that says stalking, bullying, harassment, defamation, libel and posting the home addresses of authors does not violate the guidelines.
    Goodreads actually threatens your reputation as an author if you defend your self when attacked. The trolls on the Amazon forums have been attacking me for nine years. Neither Amazon or goodreads will do a thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I mentioned above, trolls, stalking and 'anonymous' are increasingly becoming a problem for many different sites and businesses.

      I don't know if you heard about the recent backlash and one day boycott of twitter, protesting the abuse many women on twitter receive. It was getting so out of hand and vicious that journalists and even some members of parliament became involved, demanding that twitter do something to improve the situation and protect it's users (threats and harassment, including online, is against UK law). Twitter vowed to make it easier to report abuse and act faster to ban users when it happens.

      My hope is that this is a turning point in online harassment and more and more businesses will have to take note and do something.

      Delete
  7. Hi Cat,

    I came across this post today, because I am dealing with the same issue. I appreciate that not everyone likes a book, but the nonstop harassment is getting ridiculous. As someone who has been bullied to the point of near suicide several times, I didn't get into writing for this - and Amazon needs to watch this better.

    Let me know if you ever found a solution: sarah.daltry@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
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