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Autocomments are fraud too

Director, Digital Insight

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If you’Íve read my other post on automated blog posts (Autoblogs are fraud) you already know my opinion of automated machines gathering meaningless text from across the ‘Net and using it for blackhat SEO and Google AdWords fraud.

It may surprise you to learn that there are humans on the ‘Net that perform much the same tasks. It may surprise you even more to learn that these tasks are intermediated by none other than Amazon, the king of Internet retailing. Let’s find out if this service is evil as well:

What is Amazon Mechanical Turk?

To answer this it’s helpful to know that the original “Mechanical Turk” was. In the late 1700’s a machine was built that could apparently play chess and beat most of its human opponents. This marvel of “steampunk”[1] mechanical calculation was exposed in the 1820’s as actually holding a human player that pretended to be an automaton.

Amazon Mechanical Turk operates on much the same basis, hence the name. Here, people who need work done that can be difficult for computers hire humans at exceptionally low rates to perform mechanical tasks. This can be anything from comparing photos, to checking links, to adding comments to blogs or ecommerce sites.

Example of Amazon Mechanical Turk being used for comment spam

Here is the text of a task that intends to generate comment spam on a website.

The text from the task:

View the sub-category of products below, pick a product that you find is relevant to you, and provide a comment based on your impression of the product for others who may be shopping for this product.

 

What do you think of this product? Is this something that you would buy for yourself or someone else? Do you have any opinions about the product after seeing the picture of it?

Be witty, constructive, positive (if possible), and G-rated in 100 words or less.

 

At the beginning of your response, please provide us with a link to the product page for the product you are commenting on.

 

Excellent work may be rewarded with a worker bonus.

http://www.styleceo.com/womens-dresses/gc/1/6/

Wow. This website purports to be an ecommerce site for women’s fashion. Based on the $0.01 payment for the above task, and I’m not making that up, the workers get one penny for each comment they add, and they are limited to 10 minutes of activity, to give others the chance to participate I suppose. Here is the quality of comments that the purchaser gets:

The text from the task:

Beautiful pattern for beautiful women, posted on 10/2/2011
This dress is designed for beautiful woman with beautiful patterns embedded
in it

Brush Strokes dress, posted on 9/29/2011
This is a beautifull dress. I love the fluid lines and random brush stroke pattern. I especially like the colour of the dress, a gorgeous royal blue.

This site does not actually sell clothing; it scrapes and reposts items from other sites. It makes money by presenting ads from Google, much like an Autoblog.

So, are these comments fraud too?

In my opinion, yes. It seems obvious that none of the commenters have any experience with the products being shown, and the task request doesn’t require that. The system requires that task requestors be located in the USA and that task workers be located outside of the USA. This seems to be because of tax implications but it is not made clear.

I guess it’s good that Amazon never adopted the corporate motto of “Don’t be evil“.

[1] Apologies, I just wanted to get a reference to steampunk into this post somewhere. Look it up, you’ll love it.

More About the Author

Brad Einarsen

Brad is Klick's Director of Digital Insight, supporting our Strategy, Accounts, and New Business groups to gather, disseminate, and make accessible knowledge about our clients, their products, and the markets in which they operate.

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