Tech Tips: Watch out for fake Amazon.com reviews | TheUnion.com

Tech Tips: Watch out for fake Amazon.com reviews

Doug Behl and Ken Getz
Columnists

Q: I often wonder if I can trust the reviews I read on Amazon.com. Some of the reviews are totally glowing, while others are totally down on the product. How can these both exist for the same product?

I've heard that a lot of Amazon reviews are fake, and are either created by computers or the seller pays people to write them. What do you think?

A: We all count on Amazon reviews to help lead is to the correct purchase. It seems like an obvious choice: You browse to the item you want on Amazon.com, and do comparison shopping based on the reviews you find there.

In a perfect world, the reviews would all be honest, helpful, and meaningful.

The problem is that no matter how hard Amazon tries to ensure that its reviews are “real,” too many crooks selling things on Amazon either find ways to write reviews themselves, hire friends or compatriots to positively review their products, or even write software that creates reviews that look like the work of humans.

In the real world, however, the reviews are often dishonest, unhelpful, and not very meaningful.

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Because Amazon.com only directly sells a small percentage of the products you find on its site when you search for items, it's very difficult to manage and approve all the reviews that appear on its pages.

(At this point, the majority of items sold on Amazon are sold through private vendors, using the Amazon store front to sell their wares. Ken has been known to sell used tech products this way in order to recoup some of his costs and upgrade to new items. It works, really! And none of his reviews are fake!)

The problem is that no matter how hard Amazon tries to ensure that its reviews are "real," too many crooks selling things on Amazon either find ways to write reviews themselves, hire friends or compatriots to positively review their products, or even write software that creates reviews that look like the work of humans.

We've all seem this — myriad reviews that are essentially all the same, hoping to trap unwary users.

What's a shopper to do? If you can't trust the reviews on Amazon, how can you make use of them to make informed shopping choices?

Common sense helps, of course — if all the reviews are glowing, you know something's likely wrong. Sure, some products deserve 100 percent praise, but not many.

There is a website you can use, as well, to help untangle the mess of Amazon reviews.

Check out the site http://www.fakespot.com­ — you paste an Amazon URL from your Web browser into this site, and it analyzes the reviews and attempts to let you know how valid it thinks the reviews are, as a whole.

It's not foolproof, but it can give you a little more information on the validity of the reviews you find on an Amazon product.

As with any other information, take it with a grain of salt, but it's possible that fakespot.com can help you weed out the honest human-generated reviews from the fake reviews.

Recommend maps applications

Q: Lately, I seem to be looking for maps and directions and distances more often. When I look for just "Maps" I seem to get a lot of choices. Many of them require me to download some files.

I am always leery of unneeded downloads and have gotten into trouble in the past. What map programs would you recommend?

A: We well remember the days of Microsoft Maps (and other applications) that required you to load a bunch of CDs worth of content to your hard drive in order to look up locations and get directions to places.

Ken still has a fresh copy of Microsoft Maps 2012 in his storage closet at home! Of course, such things are antiques at this point, and there's no reason to install anything or run a special application to get general-purpose cartographic information (big words for "maps").

Online versions of mapping software have replaced any sort of downloadable/installable maps, and if you find yourself installing anything to view maps online, you're doing it wrong.

The "big" maps are Bing (maps.bing.com) and Google (maps.google.com).

Each service has its particular focus, and special features. We've tried both extensively. (It's quite possible that you have a different mapping product that you like — there are many others besides Google and Bing — they're just the biggest/most popular.)

With either service, you can provide an address, a zip code, or a description of where you want to go. You can ask for directions from either service.

In our experience, Bing is slightly easier for sharing maps (it just seems a little easier with Bing to send someone a particular map location, but that could just be personal preference).

Both map services provide mobile applications so that you can easily use their mapping services on a mobile device, as well.

Note that both Google and Bing/Microsoft allow you to download maps to a mobile device, so that you can use their mapping information while you're disconnected from the internet.

This feature doesn't work on all phones or operating systems, so check carefully before making a decision which to use.

So, the answer is simple: We don't recommend any map program at all: Instead, we suggest that you simply use an online mapping service, and install nothing at all.

Doug Behl and Ken Getz spent years answering technical questions in private, and are minimizing the questions by pre-emptively publishing the answers. Hear Doug and Ken's tech tips on KNCO radio weekdays at around 8:21 a.m. and 5:38 p.m.; find full write-ups including links to the products they mention at http://blog.techtipguys.com. Submit your own technical questions to questions@techtipguys.com.

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