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Telco Astroturfers Use Fake Amazon Reviews To Suppress Criticism
by Karl Bode 12:39PM Tuesday Jul 30 2013
The other day I discussed how the United States broadband industry has been dramatically increasing the amount of disinformation, nonsense and sunshine pumping they usually engage in. There's two reasons for that. One, Google Fiber and its $70, 1 Gbps connections have brought a steady flow of bad press for an industry whose speeds and prices leave something to be desired. Two, Cardozo Professor Susan Crawford, whose book Captive Audience somehow managed to bring traditionally wonky discussion of this industry's lack of competition to a mainstream audience.

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While the book has faced criticism for being a bit too hyperbolic, and I personally haven't been impressed with Crawford's endorsement of a former lobbyist as the new FCC boss, there's really nothing too damning or even challenging in the book. It simply illustrates the lack of competition and regulatory capture the incumbents in this industry enjoy, and the high prices and poor support consumers "enjoy" as a result.

While writing my previous post I noticed a series of strange one star reviews for Crawford's book. While many of the one-star reviews are from the usual assortment of hired industry "consultants" and paid sunshine pumpers (like Richard Bennett and Scott Cleland), a huge number of them are from "folksy" sounding individuals, purporting to be from middle America with an oddly solid grasp on industry talking points and OECD statistics.

From stay-at-home-moms to truck drivers, all of the folksy reviews sound very similar, and all of them rejoice at the state of the current uncompetitive and expensive United States broadband market (see reviews from "nhunter," "Kobe," "Lavell Martin," and "Lee" for just a few examples). While this isn't to say that there aren't some folks who think this way, the sheer volume and similarity in tone and content raised red flags for me (you get a good nose for astroturf after spending more than a decade swimming through it).

After Tweeting my amusement at the bogus-looking reviews, Mike Masnick at Techdirt decided to do a full story on the obvious astroturfing. After doing some statistical analysis on the accounts and posts he comes to the same conclusion I came to from a quick glance:
quote:
Basically, no matter how you slice it, there's some sort of statistical anomaly going on here that makes it pretty clear that someone was pushing a ton of fake astroturfing reviews on Crawford's book, and didn't even care to take the time to hide it well. As I said, even if you don't fully agree with the book, I'd hope we can all agree that this is a pretty disgusting move by whatever lobbyists/shills/think tanks dreamed up this astroturfing campaign just because they don't like what the book says. Can't fight on the merits, huh?
Granted it's impossible to say who is behind the reviews specifically. AT&T alone employs the help of thousands of paid academics, astroturfers, think tankers, consultants, lobbyists and groups like ALEC who literally spend most of their days trying to distort the public discourse. When done well, disinformation and astroturf usually is not noticeable. These Amazon reviews however were ham-fisted and inept, and Amazon again makes it clear they're not doing enough to weed out the obvious review manipulation that has plagued the site for some time.

Amusingly, Mike's post then made the front page of Reddit, whose readership has since driven the book's ranking up and added some...colorful...conversation to the Amazon reviews section. This review in particular is fairly funny and worth a read. In the end, whichever telco or cable consultant or firm was responsible for the fake reviews, they've done a piss-poor job, drawing more attention and readers to Crawford's book while making it clear that the only people who believe their denials about the broadband industry's competition issues are either willfully oblivious, paid by the industry to distort the truth -- or simply made up entirely.

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axus

join:2001-06-18
Washington, DC
Reviews:
·Comcast

1 recommendation

Working hard to lobby against the telcos

We're working hard to give a negative spin on everything they do, where's our lobbying dollars! Ahh just kidding they make it easy to criticize them.

I'm kind of curious, anyone here ever been offered money for lobbying/astroturfing?

BTW, the one you linked is hilarious

FFH
Premium
join:2002-03-03
Tavistock NJ
kudos:5

Who would take the time to read this book?

I'd like to know who would take the time to read this book. Policy wonks in Washington and the public interest groups? Its premise is extremely obvious - that a few companies dominate the telco industry. Does anyone need to buy and read this book to figure that out. Does she say how to change things? Just more regulation?
--
"If you want to anger a conservative lie to him.
If you want to anger a liberal tell him the truth."

ArrayList
netbus developer
Premium
join:2005-03-19
Brighton, MA

Re: Who would take the time to read this book?

It could be used as supplemental reading for a college course.
--
A sane approach to our federal budget: Ignore the tea party

tim_k
Buttons, Bows, Beamer, Shadow, Kasey
Premium,VIP
join:2002-02-02
Stewartstown, PA
kudos:40
said by FFH:

I'd like to know who would take the time to read this book. Policy wonks in Washington and the public interest groups? Its premise is extremely obvious - that a few companies dominate the telco industry. Does anyone need to buy and read this book to figure that out. Does she say how to change things? Just more regulation?

A few years ago a local talk show had an obvious telco paid lobbyist talk about why there was no need for net neutrality laws. Basically he claimed with all the competition, there was no need for it. I wish I had to time to pull over and call in, I could have buried him with the truth. Those of us who come to sites such as this are pretty informed, most aren't and only hear what the power brokers wants us to hear. It can't hurt to have another view point for the masses to at least hear about even if they don't read the book.
--
RIP my babies Buttons 1/15/94-2/9/07, Beamer 7/24/08, & Bows 12/17/94-10/11/09
Goldman

join:2002-06-21
Maumelle, AR

1 recommendation

Karl's Wrong

I have to say, being a housewife in a small mid-western town, that Karl is completely off base. These reviews are obviously real and authentic.

Mike
Premium,Mod
join:2000-09-17
Pittsburgh, PA
kudos:1

Re: Karl's Wrong

10/10

ArrayList
netbus developer
Premium
join:2005-03-19
Brighton, MA
Arkansas is in the Midwest?
shpatb

join:2013-07-16

Re: Karl's Wrong

Whoooooooooooooooshhhhhhhhhhhhhh

ArrayList
netbus developer
Premium
join:2005-03-19
Brighton, MA

Re: Karl's Wrong

thanks for that pointless post
rahvin112

join:2002-05-24
Sandy, UT
Yep and his post was completely factual and he is actually a she. At least as far as you know.

Mashiki
Balking The Enemy's Plans

join:2002-02-04
Woodstock, ON
kudos:1
I'm a highly trained attack cat, who is a professional dog herder. I agree with that assessment.
sonicmerlin

join:2009-05-24
Cleveland, OH
kudos:1

Re: Karl's Wrong

said by Mashiki:

I'm a highly trained attack cat, who is a professional dog herder. I agree with that assessment.

I'm a cow. Moo.

Mashiki
Balking The Enemy's Plans

join:2002-02-04
Woodstock, ON
kudos:1
Reviews:
·TekSavvy Cable
·Rogers Hi-Speed
·Bright House

Re: Karl's Wrong

said by sonicmerlin:

said by Mashiki:

I'm a highly trained attack cat, who is a professional dog herder. I agree with that assessment.

I'm a cow. Moo.

Excellent, now I know who to contact for a milk contract! *meow*
TIGERON

join:2008-03-11
Pacifica, CA
Reviews:
·AT&T DSL Service

1 recommendation

A little nervous aren't they?

I wrote a review yesterday about the book and here it is :

"Susan Crawford obviously touched a nerve by the sheer number of astroturfers trying their best to bring bad reviews to a very informing and well-researched book. I'm incensed by the comment by one that "Only 3-5% of homes in the US do not have access to wired broadband services". Not only is that statement misleading by an Amazon commenter but it grossly inaccurate and so far off the cuff that you can't help but to shake your head at that figure. That number that only "3-5%" of homes don't have wired broadband services is so misleading that I fell out of my chair at how wrong that is since the number of Americans in the United States who don't have broadband services is much, MUCH higher than that. Mostly because the prices of broadband services are so expensive. There are currently more than 300 million Americans living in this country, according to official population numbers reported by the government. The FCC reported (per an Ars Technica article published in 2012) that 119 million Americans in the United States lack broadband services.

Tell me something? How does somebody get 3-5% of Americans lacking broadband services when the FCC reported last year that 199 Million Americans lack such services. The last time I checked, and feel free to correct me on this, but 119 million from 300 million is actually closer to 35%, not 3-5%.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have AT&T as my dsl internet provider. For $46.00 dollars a month, I get a lousy less than 3-meg speed and what's worse is that AT&T cannot increase it to 6-meg. I honestly wish that AT&T would just sell off their dsl and copper infrastructure to sonic.net. I have friends who have sonic and their service is not only more than double the speed, robust and reliable over AT&T, but much cheaper. AT&T : you advertise U-verse in my area and yet it's not available, and your high-speed internet as best in it's class. We pay $46.00 dollars a month for less than 3-meg speed and barely does it ever hold up to your greedy lying promises. You also have a 150GB monthly cap in place which you don't tell your subscribers about.

This is highway robbery. No wonder the big telecoms are paying astroturfers and lobbyists to give bad reviews to this book. They're nervous. And they should be."
dylking

join:2001-07-31
Saint Paul, MN

Re: A little nervous aren't they?

said by TIGERON:

The last time I checked, and feel free to correct me on this, but 119 million from 300 million is actually closer to 35%, not 3-5%.

Maybe it was a typo
rahvin112

join:2002-05-24
Sandy, UT

1 recommendation

I always get wary of someone quoting numbers using the 300million Americans figure. Yes there are 300 million Americans but ~25% of that 300 million are underage minors. Of the remaining a good portion live together as either spouses or cohabitation or even adult children living with parents (single adults living alone are quite rare). This leads to a household number that last I saw is around 125 million.

Broadband is more appropriately measured by households, not per capita.

mr sean
Professional Infidel
Premium,ExMod 2001-07
join:2001-04-03
N. Absentia
kudos:1

Lets Play Spot the Shill!!

It's almost too easy here on the front page.
Sadly, it's just as easy at Amazon.

But please, don't stop keeping score at home!
How many shills can you spot in the current thread?
--
How you can make the world a Better Place

David
I start new work on
Premium,VIP
join:2002-05-30
Granite City, IL
kudos:101

Re: Lets Play Spot the Shill!!

I spotted 4. Go..
squirrel21

join:2007-03-12
New Port Richey, FL

Sounds just like a lot of FIOS retorts in bad reviews!

I've heard the same tone while reading FIOS reviews on this site! They sound like the same person using multiple IDs!

The tech is good, but VZ's problems frequently look like 'behind the scenes' software problems. The scripted support and phone line drops while waiting or being switched are really annoying. And getting a refund is like trying to get blood from a stone! Still waiting to get refunds for returned hubs that were never needed but got billed for because revenue (not service) is the primary objective.

Probitas

@teksavvy.com

check one review

I still have a hard time equating overage fees + monthly fees vs lack of upgrades to existing infrastructure. I suppose they are similar to power companies who pocketed the profits but never put money towards maintenance and upgrades, and when they finally realize they screwed the pooch, consumers pay for the mistake twice. Those agreements between competitors though, stinks. I'd never thought I'd see the day when two companies that should be competing would agree not to compete, make that agreement public, and the the DOJ and FCC would allow that collusion to occur without trials and juries even when it clearly is a bad deal for consumers. I guess that shows just how much corruption is present in American politics, which sadly isn't much different from banana republics or clear dictator countries like North Korea, that most Americans like to point at and claim theirs is a much better country and government.