Samsung’s folly shows Achilles heel of online reviews


AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMARJOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission fined Samsung $340,000 Thursday for leading an online campaign that praised its phones and criticized those of competitor HTC.

For a company worth nearly $200 billion, the fine isn’t significant. But for consumers who trust the online reviews and comments they see on popular Web sites, it’s a problem. How can you ensure you’re getting good information? Was the review that motivated you to try a certain restaurant or gadget written by an employee of the company?

Samsung has previously acknowledged developers were offered money to promote a company event. And it’s certainly not the only company linked to taking advantage of anonymous or near-anonymous reviews. Bing Liu, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor, has estimated that 30 percent of reviews for certain products are fake.

The beauty of comments and online review sites is mobilizing the collective intelligence of the masses. When reviews are authentic, you can do a quick litmus test of whether that new pizza place is any good, or what spots you should visit on your next vacation.

There’s still work to be done to perfect online reviews. Some Web sites will let you see the previous comments by a reviewer, or how popular a user’s reviews have been in the past. The idea is to better gauge credibility through transparency. But until the system is perfect, there’s always old-fashioned word of mouth.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland | October 24, 2013