In the past few weeks and months, thousands of Americans have been surprised when they receive parcels from Amazon on their doorstep. Because in these there were plant seeds that they had never ordered. China could often be identified as the country of origin. The reason for the unsolicited orders puzzled authorities, however.
Although the seeds of foreign ecosystems in the recipient country can cause considerable environmental damage – think of the Asian killer hornets that are currently spreading in the USA, biological warfare is not to be assumed. The solution to the riddle lies in the product reviews on Amazon.
Amazon has a review problem
Many customers who browse the virtual shelves of Amazon do not know in advance what exactly they want to buy. In the search, you do not enter the serial number of a specific washing machine, just the search term “washing machine”. The online shop’s algorithm then does the rest and presents the results to the customer. In a large number of cases, the customer now looks at the price, brand and the ratings of other customers, which largely determine the purchase decision.
The problem: Amazon not only offers its own products, but also acts as a middleman for millions of other online shops. In order to get more visibility and thereby sell more products, these third-party providers are increasingly resorting to unfair means. Bought product reviews, for example, or fake ones.
According to the “BBC” it is precisely these fake product reviews that are behind the mysterious plant seeds.
Plant seeds for five stars
In order to get away better with the algorithm, the ominous third-party providers send packages with goods that are as inexpensive as possible. Thanks to a loophole, according to the “BBC”, these mailings are then classified by Amazon as “verified purchases” – this increases the shops’ credibility. The third-party providers then choose any unsuspecting addressee and write positive product reviews.
These falsified reviews, known as “brushing”, are a growing problem for Amazon because they reduce the credibility of the important customer reviews. A problem that Amazon is apparently cracking down on. The “Financial Times” reports that the online shop recently deleted 20,000 fake 5-star ratings because they were fake. Amazon has now abruptly defused the latest trick with the plant seed packages with a rule change: In the future, plant seeds will no longer be allowed to be sent from abroad to Americans.
Tests by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to the BBC, showed that the seeds that were now being sent were largely harmless. Nevertheless, the USDA warns the addressees of the parcels not to plant the seeds, as these could be alien plants that could endanger the ecosystem and because they could contain pests and diseases.