According to the Cincinnati Beacon, Amazon has deleted 72 5-star reviews that were written by a Florida PR professional named Rachel Friedman.
A closer look at the younger Friedman’s Amazon account showed that since January 2008 she had posted a total of 72 reviews, all for books, all of which were awarded five stars. As we reported, EMSI had issued press releases for 69 of the 72 books. Some of Rachel Friedman’s Amazon “reviews” were cut & pasted from releases bylined by her and other EMSI staff writers, but stripped of professional identifiers.
I think this is a good move on Amazon's part, of course. They do have a policy against people reviewing a title that they have a financial interest in, but the problem is that it's practically unenforceable unless the indiscretions are identified by a third party. (The Beacon pointed out Friedman's reviews to Amazon.) There's no way to enforce these rules without getting into some shady ethical ground—do you simply ban PR people from writing reviews? Is that even legal? What if they create a fake account?
This isn't just an issue with Amazon, of course. It's been dogging Yelp since Yelp first Yelped. Most people simply discount the highest and lowest ratings on a product and service, and then determine from the center ratings whether they should buy. It's good to root out extreme examples of ratings-fixing, though, so the system doesn't get too rigged; maybe that's always going to be a crowd-sourced responsibility.