Why Amazon’s recommendation system is a disaster
An article in The New York Times, “Amazon’s open secret” about how the company’s product recommendations and reviews are increasingly riddled with lies and opinion-buying mafias, brings to mind my recent experience with a particular transaction I think exemplifies the company’s problems very well.
Pictured here is my review of a company that sells seeds. I was curious about trying to grow some particular species of a South African tea, so I located a seller on Amazon and ordered them. After trying to germinate the seeds, at the right time of the year and with just the right growing conditions (I’m a biologist by training and have reasonably green fingers), I found that of the 20 seeds sent to me, only one sprouted, producing a seedling so weak that the poor thing survived just a few days. Obviously, the seeds had not been stored properly. So I did the logical thing: I went back to Amazon, to the seller’s page, and wrote a short review: a single star, and a short message: “Just one seed germinated, and died right away. Lousy quality.”
Two days later, I receive the message from Amazon shown here (in Spanish): my review cannot be published, because it does not meet the company’s guidelines. I don’t know if the reason is because the review is “not focused on specific product features” (what feature is more specific to seeds than the fact that they don’t germinate?), is profane or obscene (such sensibilities…), spam (for what? ), false or misleading (maybe they germinated… but in another space-time dimension, I don’t know :-) The point is that Amazon won’t publish it, presumably because rather than being simply an unsatisfied customer, instead I must be some kind of liar who needs to be excluded. Frankly, of all the possible insults behind the rejection of my product rating, I’m not clear which one to go with, but I don’t like any of them. Even if their supposed guidelines are generic and not specifically applied to me or my review.
Why would Amazon refuse to publish my product review? A complaint from the seller? Yup, and probably helped by an automated process that allows vendors to remove bad reviews that may affect their sales. The fact is that, as we already knew, Amazon’s review system is garbage, as the aforementioned article in The New York Times, or this one in BuzzFeed News, or Wired…