it’s funny because it’s true

Another Dilbert, which is funny as usual:

So, why the headline? Well, because, it is true. The Daily Background broke a story a couple of weeks ago about precisely this type of behaviour. In brief, they discovered that an employee of Belkin (one Mike Bayard) was paying for fake positive reviews through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. To wit:

That’s a request from somebody named Mike Bayard to review a product and “give [it] a 100% rating (as high as possible).” It doesn’t matter if the reviewer doesn’t own the product or has never tried it– the requester has helpfully written, “Write as if you own the product and are using it.” It even goes a step further, asking the Mechanical Turk user to “Mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” once you post yours.”

Users are paid 65 cents for every positive review they leave. There are dozens of these requests from this Mike Bayard guy on Mechanical Turk.

They shouldn’t get away with this. Bayard has also been paying people to post fake reviews on and Newegg. Faking reviews is not only against’s Terms of Service, it’s also highly unethical and misleading. Amazon should reset its ratings for this product, and Belkin should discipline or fire this Mr Bayard, ASAP. This is one of the more scummy, totally awful advertising schemes I’ve seen. Tell Amazon and Belkin to read this blog entry and act accordingly.

Needless to say, story was rapidly picked up and spread through the intertubes, courtesy of Gizmodo, Slashdot, Techcrunch, etc. etc. The story broke a couple of weeks before the Dilbert strip came out. I don’t know whether Mr. Adams actually got the idea from the incident. If not it would be even funnier.

To Belkin’s credit, they owned up to the incident and issued an apology letter.

The lesson: Quite simple – don’t do it, and make sure all of your employees know not to do it. If and when any of your employees make any representations regarding your products in public, make sure they clearly identify themselves as your employees, particularly in less formal arenas such as user-created forums and sites (like Amazon) posting reviews and commentaries on product. In fact, having an “official” presence in user forums will often do much for a company’s reputation, particularly where the company employee participating monitors comments and criticisms and actually gets them addressed.

being an employee and a (potential) entrepreneur

Apologies to my loyal readers for the extended blog absence. What can I say – I was perhaps discouraged by the recent pronouncement in wired that blogging was dead – and that twitter is the Next Big Thing.

In any event, I was reading Dilbert this morning. As those who follow the strip know, there has been a running series about how Dilbert started his own business on his company’s time. (As an aside, it was called and is actually a real site that Scott Adams set up for file sharing).

So today, Dilbert gets some bad news:

Funny, but true, unfortunately. One of the things that I admire about Dilbert is the way it conveys some simple truths, such as the one above, with a bit of humour. And it never ceases to amaze me that some entrepreneurs do continue to find themselves barfing in their box full of junk. To wit: The founders of MGA Entertainment – the company that was very successful in marketing a line of dolls called “Bratz”. Apparently, the person who came up with the concept and drawings for the Bratz dolls did so while still in the employ of Mattel. Because of that, Mattel claimed that it owned the rights to the Bratz concept. The court agreed, and gave ownership to Mattel, which then wasted no time in seeking (and obtaining) a court order that effectively shut down MGA’s Bratz business and handed the keys over to Mattel. The folks at MGA likely barfed in their box of junk to the tune of several hundred million dollars. Not good.

The fact of the matter is that if you are a budding entrepreneur who still has a job, unless you have a written agreement with your employer that you will personally retain ownership of certain IP that you come up with, then in all probability whatever you create in the course of your employment will in fact be the property of your employer. So think twice about creating that little side software project on your work computer. Or, for that matter, that really cool blog. Otherwise, you may find yourself handing it over when it’s worth quite a bit more.