Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)

After reading a couple of articles about “black hat” tactics on Amazon, an amusing thought occurred to me. First, I will quote the pertinent passages from two articles. Then I will lay out a scenario.

Public domain drawing of a spy behind a computer with a black hat from Openclipart.
Public domain artwork from Openclipart.

First, see the following passage from a May 7, 2018 article on Buzzfeed News titled Inside Amazon’s Fake Review Economy:

Amazon’s ban [of unnatural reviews] didn’t stop sellers from recruiting reviewers. It only drove the practice underground. Reviewers are no longer simply incentivized with free stuff — they’re commissioned specifically for a five-star rating in exchange for cash.

Amazon has a ton of fake reviews? That is big news. The scales have fallen from my eyes.

Now we we turn to an April 24, 2019 report from Buzzfeed news with a truly scandalous headline: Some Amazon Sellers Are Paying $10,000 A Month To Trick Their Way To The Top. Let us study a key passage:

One site called Black Hat Tech — blackhattech.asinspy.net — lets interested sellers order black hat services as simply as placing an order over WeChat. The company offers services like “remove bad review” for 1,500 Chinese yuan (about $223 US) and “manipulate the reviews [and] manipulate the sales rank” for the cost of 41,000 Chinese yuan (about $6,100 US). The company declined to comment to BuzzFeed News.

(The site was actually called Black Hat Tech…)

I am shocked that Black Hat Tech declined to comment. The trustworthy enterprise could have taken the opportunity to pitch some exciting new content to Buzzfeed. Imagine: “11 Black Hat Amazon Techniques That Look Totally White Hat.”

But I digress. Let us check in with another reputable service called Seller Mafia. The following passage also comes from the 2019 Buzzfeed report:

On SellerMafia.com, a seller can also buy a second ‘stealth seller’ account for $1,000 that allows them to use a second account in case their first account is ‘hit by a competitor’…

Consider what we have read as I offer you the following scenario. Let us say that you are a black hat business based in China that is touting nefarious services to Amazon sellers. You offer one service to help sellers who are negatively affected by direct black hat attacks against them – for example, fraudulent bad reviews alleging counterfeit or defective products. You offer another service wherein you post fraudulent bad reviews alleging counterfeit or defective products against a seller of your client’s choice.

Do you see where this is going?

I will set up a scenario. We have a black hat company, let us call it Black Hat Services (barely even a parody after Black Hat Tech). Black Hat Services takes on a client, we will call the client ACACAC. ACACAC is an Amazon seller extraordinaire, a brand you can trust, but it needs to get ahead of a rival seller and brand called BDBDBD. ACACAC really wants to do things the right way, but in the words of Mr. Kevin Zhang, who was quoted in the 2019 Buzzfeed article, “[e]verybody is doing it.” ACACAC puts in a call to Black Hat Services and tells them to put the hit on BDBDBD. Surely BDBDBD is doing it too, so all is well. Black Hat Enterprises delivers the service that ACACAC asked for – and floods BDBDBD with a large number of fictitious one-star reviews.

(To be fair, BDBDBD’s products are garbage and absolutely deserve one-star reviews.)

BDBDBD is not happy with this state of affairs. The CEO of this company dedicated to providing products of only the highest quality sends a message to Black Hat Services. BDBDBD has now fallen behind ACACAC since it was hit with a flood of negative reviews – and BDBDBD is suspicious. It pays Black Hat Services to (1) remove bad reviews from its own products and (2) to post fraudulent reviews on ACACAC’s products alleging that they are counterfeits. Black Hat Enterprises takes the order and delivers the service.

(To be fair, ACACAC’s products are actually counterfeits.)

BDBDBD’s brutal counter-attack works, not only does ACACAC lose its standing, but it is also banned by Amazon for dealing in counterfeits. Oh no! But there is hope. Let us return to the 2019 Buzzfeed article and read about another service:

One black hat consultant, who asked to remain anonymous, told BuzzFeed news he can get a suspended Amazon seller account reinstated by pulling strings with his employee connections inside Amazon.

Our own Black Hat Services offers this amazing service. ACACAC remembers the great job that Black Hat Services did in spamming BDBDBD with negative reviews, so it sends another message. After paying a new fee, Black Hat Services manages to get ACACAC reinstated as an Amazon seller. Whew!

It is true that Amazon’s quality control is lacking and its reviews are a spam-filled tire-fire. It is also true that Amazon does not care as much as it should. But take solace in the fact that you just know some of these Amazon sellers are giving money to a company to repair damage done to them by that very company on behalf of other sellers.