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OPLIN 4cast #511: Catfishing in Amazon

Posted in 4cast

If you were hoping to get some tips about the best way to catch catfish in the Amazon River, our apologies; that’s not what this blog post is about. This post is about people who sell ebooks on that are written by fictitious authors, another example of the practice sometimes called “catfishing.” The term supposedly derives from the 2010 documentary film Catfish, in which people lie online about their true identities. While catfishing ebooks by lying about the identity of the author is not a new phenomenon, it does seem to be a surprisingly persistent practice, and is apparently entirely legal, if a bit unethical.

  • How an industry of ‘Amazon entrepreneurs’ pulled off the Internet’s craftiest catfishing scheme (Washington Post | Caitlin Dewey)  “The catfishing process varies according to the specific ‘entrepreneur’ using it, but it typically follows the same general steps: After hiring a remote worker to write an e-book for the Kindle marketplace, Amazon’s e-book store, publishers put it up for sale under the name and bio of a fictional expert. Frequently, Kindle entrepreneurs will then buy or trade for good book reviews. … At the end of this process, they hope to have a Kindle store bestseller: something with a catchy title about a hot topic, such as gambling addiction or weight loss.”
  • Revealed: How one Amazon Kindle scam made millions of dollars (ZDNet | Zack Whittaker)  “The server installed the Selenium web driver, a browser automation tool, which simulates a real person typing in the accounts’ usernames and passwords, one after the other. Not all logins will be successful. Some are blocked or banned. If that happens, the table would log the the failure, and move on to the next account. The fake accounts would download hundreds of these ebooks over a short period of time — usually a few hours. Each promoted ebook can be offered for free for a short period of time, allowing the downloads to run at no additional cost. Free books don’t generate royalties, but they do help to raise an ebook’s visibility in the Amazon charts.”
  • Fake e-book reviews: A legal guide to understanding & navigating ( | Dan Warner)  “Before we dive into the legality v. illegality of fake e-book reviews, it’s important to make a clarification. Some people mistakenly believe that using ghost writers is, in-and-of itself, against the law and Amazon’s terms of use. Not true. It is 100 percent legal to commission a work of writing from another party. (How do you think all those reality stars get book deals?)”
  • Don’t necessarily judge your next e-book by its online review (NPR | interview with Caitlin Dewey)  “Obviously, using a pseudonym is not illegal. The problem is, that in a lot of cases, these people are inventing a fictional persona with expertise that they don’t actually have. On top of that, they’re buying these fake reviews, which is explicitly against Amazon’s terms of service. … Unfortunately, the bottom line is you can’t necessarily trust the reviews.”

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