Amazon’s Most Famous Fake Reviews

Ping book cover and funny Amazon review of UNIX ping

This week hundreds of users submitted fake one-star reviews throughout Amazon’s Kindle store (as a protest of high ebook prices). But there’s also a tradition of random pranksters spontaneously slipping fake reviews onto the site — simply to amuse their friends.

And some of their most famous fake reviews can still make me laugh…

1. I was as surprised as anybody that Amazon was selling a plastic bottle of “Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz.” And I was even more surprised it had received 759 five-star reviews (and a total of 1,215 reviews).

“So Tasty the Monkeys of Tuscany Weep as it’s Exported”
“Has anyone else tried pouring this stuff over dry cereal?”
“Can fight zombies.”
“Warm.”

There’s something strange going on here — the gallon of milk was priced at $160. And don’t forget to click on the “related images,” which apparently show a satisfied Tuscan customer, bicycling with a refrigerator on his back. Instead of investigating the milk itself, the reviews become miniature satires, calling attention to the absurdity of selling milk through a Seattle-based web site.

“My milk came by UPS via Amazon Super Saver shipping (great value!). Unfortunately, it arrived warm and mildly chunky. As such, I’ve had to downgrade my rating to only four stars. It’s still the best milk $700 can buy

Eventually, even The New York Times ended up writing an article about the fake reviews, noting wryly in their headline that “all of a sudden everyone’s a milk critic.”

2. It was an even stranger day when Amazon’s educational science supplies finder turned up Uranium Ore. “So glad I don’t have to buy this from Libyans in parking lots at the mall anymore,” wrote one reviewer (who awarded the product 5 stars.) “The quality of this Uranium is on par with the stuff I was bying from the Libyans over at the mall parking lot, but at half the price!”

And amazingly, 1,377 of 1,437 people found the following review helpful.

“Ok for cleaning teeth, not so great for killing ants…”

In the mix are some finely-tuned jokes about the half-life of radioactive materials. (“I purchased this product 4.47 Billion Years ago and when I opened it today, it was half empty.”) And there’s also some advice for suggested implementations. (Like “Don’t use in a teleportation device!” and “DO NOT USE AS LUBRICANT!!!”) But one user issued a warning not about the product, but about the shipping.

“I was very disappointed to have my uranium confiscated at the airport. It was a gift for my son for his birthday. Also, I’m in prison now, so that’s not good either.”

3. Over 200 different reviews have turned up for the Bic crystal ballpoint pen. (“Worked fine with my right hand, but when I came to use my left hand my writing came out looking like the work of a complete imbecile…would caution left-handers to ‘try before you buy’.”) Within 24 hours, a link to one review actually drew over 1,000 positive votes on Reddit. (“Since taking delivery of my pen I have been very happy with the quality of ink deposition on the various types of paper that I have used…”) One reviewer was delighted to discover the product, because “I have been meaning to upgrade from my HB2 pencil for some time, but I have been wary of making the jump.” But someone calling themselves “Flabbergasted” instead wrote an outraged review complaining of “Blatant false advertising…

“I ordered 300 of these individually gift wrapped for a client’s wedding and was horrified to learn 14 minutes before the reception that this is NOT REAL CRYSTAL!!!”

4. I have a personal fondness for some of the first fake reviews ever submitted. Once upon a time, back in 1995, there was a web site where random wise guys submitted alternate captions for the newspaper comic strip “The Family Circus.” It continued for over four years, until Bil Keane’s lawyers finally showed up and purged them from the internet — but the site’s contributors had also apparently slipped in some fake Amazon reviews of the cartoonist’s books. (“Since Bill Keane’s extradition from Guatemala, his work has not been the same…”) One amazed author at the literary site Feed honestly suggested the reviews were “revolutionary”, protesting the “insipid commentary” that usually clogs Amazon’s review section.

He noted Amazon had just faced a controversy about whether they were accepting bribes for listings in the staff-driven “What we’re reading” section, then suggested the fake reviews were “poetic justice.” An embarrassed Amazon quickly deleted the funny Family Circus reviews, but eventually some quotes also turned up in a Village Voice article asking the ultimate question: who’s reviewing these reviewers?

“While I agree that Daddy’s Cap Is on Backwards has its moments of drug-inspired poetry, frankly I was disappointed that Keane appears to have abandoned the thematic thread that ran through earlier classics including . . . the quintessential Don’t Bother Mommy When She’s Drinking.”

5. It’s also been more than 10 years since John E. Fracisco submitted his review of a famous children’s picture book — but it has to be considered one of the most famous, since 9,846 of 10,193 people marked his review “helpful”. The picture book tells the story of a fish-catching duck who works on Chinese fisherman’s boat — though Fracisco’s review apparently mistakes “The Story About Ping” for a manual on the UNIX operating system command for testing connection latency. But he still enthusiastically plows through his review, describing the book as “an insightful and intuitive explanation of one of Unix’s most venerable networking utilities…[though] I would have expected a more detailed overview of the ICMP packet structure.”

“Even more stunning is that they were clearly working with a very early beta of the program, as their book first appeared in 1933, years (decades!) before the operating system and network infrastructure were finalized…”

9 thoughts on “Amazon’s Most Famous Fake Reviews

  1. How could this author leave out the David Hasslehoff Greatest Hits CD reviews? They’re truly legendary and beat the sauce out of anything contained in this article.

  2. Im shocked that the Three Wolves T-Shirt reviews didn’t make the cut. The first time I read them, I spritzed I was laughing so hard!

  3. Agreed: “Three Wolves” reviews made me laugh until I cried. They were justification enough for the Internet and all its sturm und drang.

  4. Amazon is rife with spoof products. Zombie jerky, UFO detectors, uranium ore, DVD rewinders, a duck carcass press, a Swiss knife featuring 87 implements, canned unicorn meat… All cheerfully reviewed by Amazon customers.

  5. Gosh, how can any such list be complete without “the boys best friend” the one and only OOzinator? Actually, all content was removed from Amazon, (probably due to it’s rather lewd nature and it being a child’s toy).

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