Customer reviews were supposed to be one of the internet’s greatest breakthroughs. They let you know if a product was any good before you spent money on it. Sites like Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb built their successes on the trust created by those review systems.

But these days, that trust is getting shaky.

How bad is the problem?

Here’s the thing: The review system is essential to trust — and to Amazon’s business model. After all, if you’re an online-only store, your customers can’t touch and examine your wares. All they have to go on are reviews from other customers.

But here’s the other thing: If you’re a desperate, obscure company, those reviews are your only hope of generating sales. Highly rated products appear first in Amazon’s search results, so getting your product listed at the top means big money. Gaming the system becomes very appealing.

“Anyone with a brain can see that there are a lot of problems,” says Saoud Khalifah founder of (FakeSpot is a site whose algorithms help you weed out fake reviews from Amazon — or Yelp, or TripAdvisor, or the Apple app store; more on this below.)

“I would estimate right now, across all categories, around 30% are fake reviews,” Khalifah says. “Of the Chinese no-name companies, I’d say 95% of them are fake reviews.”

For its part, Amazon says that figure is overblown. “Inauthentic reviews made up less than 1% of all reviews on Amazon last month,” a spokesperson told me by email.

But as Tommy Noonan, creator of another fake-review-spotting site called ReviewMeta, points out, that there are millions of reviews on Amazon. So if 1% of 200 million reviews are fake, he noted, “there are still 2 million fake reviews on Amazon.”

Besides, Noonan says, “How do they know there are 1% fake reviews? I mean, if they know a review is fake, they’re gonna delete it, right? It’s basically impossible for anybody to say what percentage are fake.”

Where fake…

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