Category: Misinformation

Manipulated Amazon Reviews

Amazon would have you believe that their reviews are authentic and reliable. But I want to impress upon you that they are far from perfect. Besides Brushing Scams, some Amazon sellers game the system by paying for positive reviews. And it works. Here’s how Amazon reviews can be manipulated, with offers of Amazon Gift Cards.

When a buyer receives their item, a business card similar to the above examples is included. The card instructs the recipient that, if they follow the steps, and leave a review, and email proof to the seller, then they will receive an Amazon gift card.

Note that, while the cards sport the Amazon logo, the verbiage specifically says not to mention this card or return it to Amazon. That should be a tip-off that they are doing something illicit.

My Experience

I’ve received many of these over the years, and became intrigued. I was curious if there was a scam or a danger, or what Amazon might do about this scheme, if anything. So when I received a fresh “offer” card with my order, I went through with it. I followed the steps, left a review on the Amazon product page, sent proof to the seller’s stated email address. And they quickly sent me the promised Amazon Gift Card.

I was still dubious, but I clicked through on the gift card link and redeemed the code. It was real. I had the promised amount added to my Amazon account, for future spending. Case closed, right?

But my intent was not to grab some money for a dishonest review. I just wanted to prove the process, and I had done so. Next, I got Amazon support on chat and came clean about everything. I provided every last detail about what I’d done, and asked them to take back the gift card amount, as I hadn’t come by it honestly. With everything documented and saved in PDFs and JPGs, my finger was poised over an email send button, and all I needed to know was the correct address at Amazon to send it to.

Amazon didn’t care. Their support told me that wasn’t necessary, and that I could keep the gift card money. I spluttered (if you can do such in a chat window) that surely they wanted some kind of details, so that they could stop or discourage this sort of thing. And I also asked: “What should I do about the review I left? Should I remove it, or leave there for Amazon to track?”

Again, they were noncommittal. They thanked me for my honesty and said they would log the details and asked if there was anything else they could do for me. I insisted that they give me an email address to send my message to. They grudgingly provided one.

I let them go from the chat, and sent my message. And I later got a bounce message in response. My email did not get through, as they’d given me a non-working address. Sigh.

So What’s Your Point?

Good point. After all those words, there seems to be no personal risk or harm to all of this. I haven’t even seen any extra spam, from sharing my email with seller-strangers. Amazon did not punish me. It’s all just a wrinkle in the huge canvas of Amazon commerce, right?

The point to all of this is to emphasize that Amazon Reviews are not reliable. I still think you should shop with Amazon, if that seems best for you. But take some skepticism with you. If product reviews are important to your buying decisions, check reviews from multiple sources. Research your product at Walmart, Target, Costco, wherever else you might buy that item. Consider Consumer Reports or other big-name review authorities.

Because the methods being used to earn great Amazon reviews can defeat even the best detection tools.

Facebook Copypasta

If you see this stuff on Facebook, don’t pay it any mind. And don’t copy and paste it to your feed or anywhere else. It’s just junk, it’s Facebook copypasta, and you don’t need to be part of this paperless chain letter.

You can read more about this rubbish on Snopes. This one has been making the rounds for several years…

facebook copypasta

Don’t Post That Privacy Notice to Facebook

For ten years now, people have been posting the following notice on Facebook:

Please don’t do that. Don’t post this or Share this if you see it. It is a hoax and it is misinformation. It accomplishes nothing.

I understand if you have privacy concerns over Facebook’s treatment of your information. Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t have a great track record of protecting and respecting our user data. But this kind of post does not protect you or change how Facebook treats you.

Please read up about this on Snopes or other websites. When you first signed up for a free Facebook account, you agreed to a lengthy contract. You agreed to so many many things, including:

Specifically, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings). This means, for example, that if you share a photo on Facebook, you give us permission to store, copy, and share it with others (again, consistent with your settings) such as service providers that support our service or other Meta Products you use. This license will end when your content is deleted from our systems.

Facebook Terms of Service

If you really want control over what Facebook does with your data, your options are few and simple enough:

  • Don’t post it in the first place.
  • Delete your info, posts or pictures from Facebook.
  • Delete your whole Facebook account!

I understand that those may not be the most helpful options, and for that, I can only apologize and sympathize. Remember: If you’re using something for free, you are probably not the customer, you are the product!

The National Baby Formula Shortage

Some info pertaining to the shortage of baby formula in the USA:

Scams abound! If you find an online vendor for baby formula that seems too good to be true, it may be. When possible, buy your formula from respected, large companies and not sketchy eBay auctions or brand-new websites.

Misinformation about buying from Amazon’s Canada website is circulating, and I want to debunk that before you try it. For the most part, you cannot buy baby formula from Amazon.ca, unless it is from one of their 3rd-party sellers. And those may be risky to use.

Another important resource right now is the Free Formula Exchange. If you have formula that you don’t need, please donate it through this website! And if you need formula, you can sign up and possibly connect with someone nearby who has unneeded baby formula.

And you should touch base with your pediatrician for other trusted resources that can help you get through this tough time.

Defending Against Misinformation

You can call it misinformation, false news, alternative facts or misleading journalism. The internet is plagued with ubiquitous lies & fraudulent stories, promoted by real people and bot accounts, alike. It’s awful out there, folks.

And it’s not just the news. Forwarded emails of photos and videos dupe people into believing inaccurate science. Ads and posts convince people into strange & unnecessary behaviors through clickbait manipulation. On the internet, you are constantly targeted with junk info.

Protect your brain. Defend against the garbage that laps up against the shores of your consciousness. Here are some tools and tactics:

Fact-checking Websites

There are many websites devoted to revealing false news and fraudulent info. Search any of these to see if they can validate or refute any subject:

Snopes

VERIFY

Factcheck by AFP

LeadStories

Hoax Slayer shut down its website earlier this year, but still debunks on Twitter.

Check out Wikipedia for other fact-checking recommendations, too.

Reverse Image Search

If you’re looking at an unbelievable picture, you can search for it on the internet. When you find it on other websites, it may become apparent that it is either true or altered/fake.

To perform a “reverse image search”, many use Google Image Search. Click the camera icon at the end of the search field, and Google will allow you to upload any picture file, or paste in a weblink to any photo. The search results should help you learn more about the origins of your dubious picture.

Another great site that works similarly is Tineye.com . And it looks like Bing offers an image search function, if you click the curious camera-like icon at the end of the search field.

There aren’t a lot of good options for reverse video searches. While some tools exist, they are more for creators who are looking for plagiarism. And they often cost money to use. If you’re looking to check a video for legitimacy, you can take a screenshot and upload that one frame to a reverse image search site. You might also simply visit YouTube and type in a search that describes the video you want to check.

Learn More about Misinformation

There are many institutions out there that discuss this societal problem, and have advice for you. Consider reading up on misinformation and how to guard against it:

ASU: Seven Ways to Protect Yourself Against Misinformation

Security.org: Misinformation and Disinformation: A Guide for Protecting Yourself

The Verge: How to Fight Lies, Tricks and Chaos Online

Brookings: How to Combat Fake News and Disinformation

And you may also want to peruse the fact-checking websites listed at the top of this post, even when you don’t need to debunk something. Casual reading of those types of sites may teach you the hallmarks of false info and train you to be more judgmental about what you read.

Trend Micro Check

The Trend Micro company has come out with a new tool that I want to recommend. Trend Micro Check is a free browser extension that you can install in Google Chrome (or Microsoft Edge) that will protect you as you surf the web.

Specifically, Trend Micro Check blocks ads and trackers (like AdBlockPlus), warns you when you visit scam or misinformation websites (like Bitdefender Trafficlight) and also goes through your surfing history for baddies. If it finds anything worrisome in your browser history, it will report it to you and then offer to remove it.

You can install the extension from the Get Now button on this page, or try this direct link to it in the Google Play Store.

You Cannot Circumvent Facebook’s Algorithms

At least, not with some copy-and-paste wodge of text. So if you see this kind of post, don’t bother with it:

You Cannot Circumvent Facebook's Algorithms

It is not harmful to post this sort of thing. And you may truly see more posts from long-lost FB Friends afterwards. But that’s because Facebook shows you more of the people you interact with. It’s not a circumvention or hack. It’s just how Facebook behaves, for all posts on all feeds.

You’ll see the same churn in your FB feed after a post where you simply ask people to leave a comment. So don’t pass on this classic Facebook chain letter. If you want to hear from old friends, you can reach out to them without participating in someone’s superstitious hokum.

PS: the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to adjusting Facebook’s main algorithm is a browser extension called FB Purity.

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