The New York Times has published an explosive account of an American online retailer that actively solicited negative feedback from customers in order to boost the site's Google ‘pagerank’ and thereby gain more web traffic.
The six page in-depth report examines the activities of DecoreMyEyes.com, an eyeware store run by a man called Vitaly Borker. The story begins by an account from a customer that defies belief, having been sent counterfeit goods and refusing to exchange an out-of-stock brand, Clarabelle Rodriguez was subsequently subjected to online harassment including graphic physical threats.
Borker had even managed to call up Ms Rodriguez’s bank posing as the beleaguered customer and convincing the bank to retract her Mastercard dispute. Ms Rodriguez continued her battle with the retailer and since found a great many negative reports on major consumer advocate sites such as ConsumerAffairs.com.
NYT reporter David Segal visited Borker and published numerous quotes from an unrepentant Borker confirming that the reason for the horrendous customer service and threats was precisely in order to gain such negative publicity. Publicity which generated many links to the web site, links from reputed sites such as consumer advocacy groups would propel DecoreMyEyes.com to the top of search results.
There are several astonishing points in the account including the reluctant and lethargic response from law enforcement, next Ms Rodriguez’ bank was entirely unwilling to resolve the fraudulent reversal of her complaint, then there’s Mastercard reinstating Borker’s service.
“There is no such thing as shutting someone down on the Internet,” Borker said chillingly in the interview with NTY reports. “It isn’t possible. If Visa and MasterCard ever shut me down, I’d use the name of a friend of mine. Give him 1 percent.”
The NYT also spoke to Google representatives that were cagey about how the pagerank systems were calculated, refusing to shed light on whether or not the search engine giant performs any kind of analysis to the quality of the links in to web sites.
The report raises a mass of questions about the lack of checks and balances at every stage of the way that ought to at the very least have shut Mr Borker down commercially if under criminal investigation.
It also suggests that the top results on Google when searching for products may not be the most reputable retailer and in fact may be just the opposite.
The NYT report A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web has much more.
Image: The New York Times.