Fake online reviews are being openly traded on the internet, a BBC investigation has found.
BBC 5 live Investigates was able to buy a false, five-star recommendation placed on one of the world’s leading review websites, Trustpilot.
It also uncovered online forums where Amazon shoppers are offered full refunds in exchange for product reviews.
Both companies said they do not tolerate false reviews.
‘Trying to game the system’
The popularity of online review sites mean they are increasingly relied on by both businesses and their customers, with the government’s Competition and Markets Authority estimating such reviews potentially influence £23 billion of UK customer spending every year.
Maria Menelaou, whose Yorkshire Fisheries chip shop is the top-ranked fish and chip shop in Blackpool on several review sites, said the system has replaced traditional advertising.
“It brings us a lot of customers … It really does make a difference. We don’t do any kind of advertising,” Mrs Menelaou said.
While three quarters of UK adults use online review websites, almost half of those believe they have seen fake reviews, according to a survey of 1500 UK residents conducted by the Chartered Institute of Marketing and shared with BBC 5 live Investigates.
Some US analysts estimate as many as half of the reviews for certain products posted on international websites such as Amazon are potentially unreliable.
“Sellers are trying to game the system and there’s a lot of money on the table,” said Tommy Noonan, who runs ReviewMeta, a US-based website that analyses online reviews.
“If you can rank number one for, say, bluetooth headsets and you’re selling a cheap product, you can make a lot of money,” he said.
‘5 star is better for us’
In 2016, Amazon introduced a range of measures prohibiting what it called “incentivised reviews”, where businesses offered customers free goods in exchange for positive reviews.
Mr Noonan said this effectively drove the problem underground, leading to the emergence of Facebook groups where potential Amazon customers were encouraged to buy a product and post a review in return for a full refund.
BBC 5 live Investigates identified several of these groups and, within minutes of joining, was approached with offers of full refunds on products bought on Amazon in exchange for positive reviews.
“5 star is better for us” said one person making such an offer, in an exchange of messages with the BBC. “We value our brand, will refund you as we promised … All my company do in this way.”
It was not possible to identify the people making these offers, nor contact the businesses whose products they were seeking reviews for.
“We do not permit reviews in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment. Customers and Marketplace sellers must follow our review guidelines and those that don’t will be subject to action including potential termination of their account,” Amazon said in a statement.
Responding to adverts posted on eBay, the BBC was also able to purchase a false 5-star review on Trustpilot, an online review website that describes itself as “committed to being the most trusted online review community on the market”.
“Dan Box is one of the most respected professionals I have dealt with. It was a pleasure doing business with him,” this review said – word for word as requested by 5 live Investigates.
Trustpilot, whose platform allows anyone to post a review, said they have “a zero-tolerance policy towards any misuse”.
“We have specialist software that screens reviews against 100’s of data points around the clock to automatically identify and remove fakes,” the company said.
In a statement, eBay said the sale of such reviews is banned from its platform “and any listings will be removed”.
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“If we put sensors in the silicon that understood indications of arousal, if you understood what turned one person on …. you could start to create content for them, maybe visual content through their smart TV, or even interact with other objects in their smart home – their smart heating, their smart lighting to create a very immersive experience,” she said.
But is the consumer ready for that?
“I’m having a hard time imagining getting aroused while knowing that my toy is recording information about me and talking to the other connecting devices in my house,” said Kashmir Hill from Gizmodo.
She recalled the story of Canadian firm WeVibe, which collected all kinds of data about how its sex toy was being used – but neglected to inform its customers that it was doing so.
The firm argued that the data helped it to improve its product – but still faced legal action as a result.
But making sense of the new terms poses a challenge.
Some companies, including Facebook, are asking members to give explicit consent to new features such as facial recognition.
Others – such as Twitter, Fitbit and Yahoo – have told members that simply continuing to use their products will be interpreted as agreement to the tweaked conditions.
The time-strapped public would be forgiven for thinking the easiest thing to do is to tick the necessary boxes and otherwise plough on regardless, despite the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
After all, who normally reads this stuff?
But that would be to pass up an opportunity to understand and place limits on how your personal details are being exploited for profit.
And there is value in knowing what you have signed up for in advance of the next data privacy scandal.
Digital rights campaign group Privacy International suggests that one way to handle the deluge of documents is to search for instances of the following terms:
The phrase may be mentioned in sections that explain what data is being collected and how that is achieved.
In particular, users should watch out for details of personal information being acquired from third parties that could let the services profile them in unexpected ways.
The new law explicitly defines the places a person visits in their past and present as being a type of personal data for the first time.
Organisations are therefore required to detail how such information will be used to identify individuals.
When consent is required, it must now be given via a clear action.
The days of automatically signing up people to a marketing campaign because they did not untick a box are over.
But it’s worth double-checking how consent is being sought to avoid clicking a button without realising its consequences.
Users based outside the EU should check where the entity is based. Facebook recently switched millions of its users out of the control of its Irish office, which means they will no longer be protected by the European watchdogs enforcing the new legislation.
‘Purposes’ and ‘Recipients’
These terms are often used to inform users what a business will do with their data and with whom they will share it.
It highlights some of the ways you can take advantage of GDPR’s new rights.
These include the right to object to any decisions taken by organisations based solely on algorithms having analysed your personal data. For instance, you can appeal against a decision to refuse you a job interview based solely on computer analysis of your CV.
You can also request a copy of the personal data being processed to make software-driven decisions.
Which’s computing editor told the BBC that people should be aware that if they are unhappy at how their personal information is being used to target ads at them, they can now demand part or all of it to be erased.
She added that people should also watch out for illegitimate enticements.
“I saw on Twitter the other day somebody share an email… saying you’d get a free pizza if/when you consented,” commented Kate Bevan.
“That is a big fat nope – consent can’t be bundled with something else.”
Those that take the time to wade through all the paperwork may still have questions.
For example, while an app might have to disclose that it shares data with third parties, it does not necessarily have to name them unless a user personally requests the information.
“They should always give you a point of contact,” explained Nicola Fulford, head of data protection and privacy at the law firm Kemp Little.
“If they sent you an email and you have questions, then they should respond to it, although obviously at the moment they may be very busy.”
Single from the brand new EP “The Wished EP”. Track featured in the Motion Picture “Wished”, 2017 Colordance Pictures. Courtesy of L4M Recordings. EDUKE (Pronounced as E-DU-KEH) is an American Music Producer and DJ.
MPs have urged Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to speak to them after evidence given by his chief technology officer was deemed unsatisfactory.
A parliamentary committee said Mr Schroepfer had failed to fully answer 40 points put to him as part of an inquiry into fake news.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s chairman said a formal summons to Mr Zuckerberg could follow.
Mr Schroepfer has promised to address the MPs’ unresolved queries.
“Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand man, whom we were assured could represent his views, today failed to answer many specific and detailed questions about Facebook’s business practices,” said committee chair Damian Collins.
“We will be asking him to respond in writing to the committee on these points; however, we are mindful that it took a global reputational crisis and three months for the company to follow up on questions we put to them in Washington DC on 8 February.”
He added that if Mr Zuckerberg did not respond positively, the committee would issue a “formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK”.
“There are over 40 million Facebook users in the UK and they deserve to hear answers from Mark Zuckerberg about the company he created and whether it is able to keep its users’ data safe.”
During his testimony, MPs accused Facebook of “bullying” the Guardian newspaper when it informed the company about a major data breach.
Chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer was asked why Facebook had threatened to sue the newspaper over its story about the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
He was also asked why it did not immediately inform users that their data had been used without consent.
“It was a mistake that we didn’t inform people at the time,” he said.
On the issue of bullying, he said: “I am sorry that journalists think we are preventing them getting the truth out.”
There were a series of questions put to Mr Schroepfer to which he replied: “I don’t know.”
He admitted that the company had not known until recently that a current Facebook employee had been the business partner of Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge academic who designed the app that harvested user data on behalf of Cambridge Analytica.
He also revealed that no-one at Facebook had read the terms and conditions that Dr Kogan had put on the app he had designed, which went on to harvest information from millions of users.
At one point, MPs voiced their frustration with his replies. “You are the chief technology officer, why don’t you know?” he was asked.
Mr Schroepfer was also grilled on the wider issue of political advertising.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s chairman Damian Collins accused Facebook of having tools on its platform that “work for the advertiser more than they work for the consumer”.
Mr Schroepfer promised to make political advertising far more transparent in the future but admitted that there was currently no way for people to opt out of it entirely.
“You can mute an ad from a specific advertiser, and there are a set of controls of your basic interests and preferences that you can change or remove.”
“That puts a lot of work on the user,” replied Mr Collins.
His questions to Mr Schroepfer were tough from the outset.
“What is the next car you will buy, what is the square footage of your house?” asked Mr Collins in his opening question.
“I don’t know,” replied Mr Schroepfer.
“But these are things that Facebook knows about us, isn’t it?” pressed Mr Collins.
Mr Schroepfer said he thought it “unlikely” that Facebook had that level of data about his life.
“It knows I like coffee and there are certain things that I am interested in like technology, travel and cats,” he said.
Mr Collins asked whether the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-based troll farm that churned out fake news during the US presidential campaign, had used Facebook’s targeting tools.
“I don’t know specifically,” said Mr Schroepfer.
“It is a terrible idea that a nation state is using our product to interfere in a democratic election by masquerading as citizens of the US. We were slow to understand the impact of this,” he said.
MPs had wanted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to appear before them, but he declined.
Millions of electronic door locks fitted to hotel rooms worldwide have been found to be vulnerable to a hack.
Researchers say flaws they found in the equipment’s software meant they could create “master keys” that opened the rooms without leaving an activity log.
The F-Secure team said it had worked with the locks’ maker over the past year to create a fix.
But the Swedish manufacturer is playing down the risk to those hotels that have yet to install an update.
“Vision Software is a 20-year-old product, which has been compromised after 12 years and thousands of hours of intensive work by two employees at F-Secure,” said a spokeswoman for the company, Assa Abloy.
“These old locks represent only a small fraction [of the those in use] and are being rapidly replaced with new technology.”
She added that hotels had begun deploying the fix two months ago.
“Digital devices and software of all kinds, are vulnerable to hacking. However, it would take a big team of skilled specialists years to try to repeat this.”
Assa Abloy’s locks are used by some of the world’s biggest hotel chains – including Intercontinental, Hyatt, Radisson and Sheraton – although it has not disclosed which properties still use a compromised version of the Vision by VingCard system.
The F-Secure researchers said they began their inquiry after a colleague’s laptop was stolen from a hotel room without the thief leaving behind any sign of unauthorised access.
“We wanted to find out if it’s possible to bypass the electronic lock without leaving a trace,” explained Timo Hirvonen, describing the Ghost In The Locks exploit.
“Only after we thoroughly understood how it was designed were we able to identify seemingly innocuous shortcomings [and] come up with a method for creating master keys.”
He added that data scanned from any discarded VingCard could be used to mount the attack, even if the card’s access privileges had long expired or had been used to open a garage or other parts of the targeted hotel rather than a bedroom.
The hack can also be applied to access other areas of a hotel – including sending a lift to a VIP floor of a property – if it is protected by the same system.
F-Secure has confirmed it will not be sharing the hardware and software tools it used to demonstrate its attack with others.
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The academic at the centre of the Facebook data scandal has said the social network is in full-on “PR crisis mode”.
Aleksandr Kogan’s remarks came as he faced a grilling over his role from MPs.
The social network was fully aware that its platform “was being mined by thousands of others”, he said.
He also rubbished Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix’s initial claims that it had not received data from him.
“That is a fabrication,” he said.
In a later clarification, Cambridge Analytica did admit that it had licensed data from the firm set up by Dr Kogan, although denied that the information was used in the US elections.
At a press conference held after Dr Kogan’s appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Cambridge Analytica spokesman Clarence Mitchell said the company was “no Bond villain”.
“Data analysis is commonly used for better targeting and is perfectly legitimate. It is not some Bond-like brainwashing as has been portrayed by some.”
Dr Kogan was questioned by MPs about his role in the data harvesting row.
He revealed that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Facebook, which prevented him from revealing some details about his relationship with the tech giant to the MPs.
The Cambridge academic has become a central figure in the debate over whether the personal information of millions of Facebook users was used in US elections without their consent.
During the committee hearing, he explained that he was approached by SCL – the parent firm of Cambridge Analytica – in spring 2014 about monetising an app he had developed at the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre.
He set up a commercial entity – Global Science Research – and later developed the personality quiz My Digital Life for SCL, using a market research firm to recruit 200,000 people to take part.
At the time, the social network’s terms and conditions – which have since been changed – allowed developers to cull the details of all of these people’s friends as well.
“Initially the conversations with SCL were about consulting services, survey designs and the interest in Facebook data grew out of that,” he said.
MPs grilled him on the relationship with business partner Joseph Chancellor, with whom he set up GSR and who is now employed by Facebook.
“Facebook has called your company a scam and a fraud. Is it not odd that they employ someone who by their admission has violated the platform’s policies?” asked committee chairman Damian Collins.
“I don’t believe that they actually believe this. They know that their platform is being mined left and right by thousands of others,” Dr Kogan replied.
“It is convenient to point the finger at my firm and call it a rogue agency,” he added.
He was asked whether the firm had been set up as a money-making exercise and replied that it had only received £230,000 in total.
Initial payments of between £600,000 and £800,000 from SCL were used to pay those who agreed to take the quiz, he said.
In written evidence presented ahead of the committee, Dr Kogan pointed out that the personality scores provided to Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm SCL were “highly inaccurate”.
“We estimate that we were right about all five traits for about 1% of the people.”
He added that the data would not have been useful for micro-targeting ads on Facebook.
Following his appearance, Cambridge Analytica broke its silence on the row with a press conference held in London.
Spokesman Clarence Mitchell agreed that the data Dr Kogan had provided to the company had been “virtually useless”.
“It was only just above random guessing in statistical terms,” he said.
He reiterated that the data had not been used in the US presidential campaign and that while Cambridge Analytica had pitched for work to both Vote Leave and Remain, it had undertaken no work for either side in the EU referendum campaign.
He said the results of an independent inquiry into the company were due imminently.
When questioned about the notable absence of currently suspended Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix, Mr Mitchell said he was “not here to speak for him”.
But he defended Mr Nix’s decision to “postpone” an appearance in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
“He is keen and willing to speak to the DCMS committee but has been advised that he should not do so while an independent inquiry is ongoing.”
On Thursday, Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, will be questioned by the committee.
Villiam is a danish based musician, composer and producer, best known for his productions and releases on the label Stereomusic.dk.
He started playing the piano at the age of 4, and at the age of 7 he participated in a music competition at the royal Danish academy of Music.
In 2013 Villiam started the label Stereomusic.dk, which publishes the music that Villiam has either composed, produced or has been involved in.
Villiams cooperation with Hyldgaard resulted in 3 published songs, in which the song “Tonight” stayed on the Chartbase Top-100 for 10 weeks, peaking as no. 30 on the list. This song was followed up by the song “I Want You” and later on the song “Dance in the dark” i 2015.
In 2015 Villiam Published 4 songs in the band “Head Over Heels”, together with Karolina Ahlberg Bolander.
In 2016 the songs “Chemistry” and “Freakin Freakin Friday” were released with 2 various co-artists.
In 2017 the song “One More Time” was released in July featuring “Inca”.