More and more spam reviews on Amazon

Earlier this month I highlighted how a book that claims to be about using Python to build convolutional neural networks and yet, say readers, contains not a single line of Python, was garnering rave reviews on Amazon.

The trend hasn’t stopped and it is pretty clear to me that these are, in fact, spam.

Plainly Amazon’s review system is broken.


Annoyed with @amazon and their b0rked business model

Last week I was sent a $50 gift voucher: a very pleasant surprise.

English: First 4 digits of a credit card
English: First 4 digits of a credit card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I immediately loaded the voucher into my account (I had one of these long before I got an account) and then thought about what books I’d like to order – picked a couple and thought “that’s nice”.

Despite the website very plainly stating apropos gift cards –

We’ll automatically apply your balance towards your next eligible purchase.

– they did nothing of the sort. They simply billed my credit card.

And when, today, I asked them to rectify their mistake they told me the only way I could get the books charged to the gift card balance was to refuse to accept them when they were delivered so that they would be automatically returned to the United States and then I could place a new order.

Now, the chances of me being actually able to “refuse” a delivery by the Royal Mail (who, according to Amazon, do the fulfilment of the order once it gets to the UK) are in all practical terms, zero. Has anyone reading this in the UK ever refused a package from the Royal Mail? How often would they even get the chance? Quite often packages are left at the doorstep or with neighbours without any further thought.

But aside from that deeply practical consideration, what sort of a business are Amazon running that they are willing to shoulder all these costs (as they implied I would get both a full refund on the shipping costs of the refused order and a free upgrade to the fastest possible delivery method on the new order)? They certainly do not take carbon reduction seriously if this is how they propose to solve what ought to be a relatively minor problem – how can it be impossible to refund the credit card charge and bill the gift card? After all their proposed “solution” amounts to the same thing, just with the addition of significant inconvenience and delay for me, significant inconvenience and costs for them, and utterly unnecessary damage to the environment?

Surely it cannot be because their IT systems are not up scratch, can it? My guess is it is because they simply do not devolve enough power and responsibility to their customer service staff, who are left to propose this utterly bonkers way of working because it works for them and allows them to mark the problem as “solved” even though it must cost the company buckets. I do not blame the staff but the managers who allow this to arise.

PS: In fairness I should add that Amazon have given me a $15 dollar “promotional” certificate to compensate me for the inconvenience – that would be another cost to them – on top of all the additional shipping – if I accepted their “solution”.

PPS: The books I ordered were Elliptic Tales: Curves, Counting, and Number Theory and The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.

More thoughts on the Kindle

Amazon Kindle

I made pretty extensive use of my Kindle this last fortnight – and the ability to order a book and have it delivered more or less instantaneously was great when it came to getting hold of Information and Coding Theory.

But a few gripes remain. It’s plain that publishers do not put the same effort into editing their books for the Kindle as they do for print (some small but still annoying errors that would never be allowed in print for a maths book are all to obvious in that one, for instance).

And why can’t we have colour in Europe? That points to the bigger problem: that the Kindle concentrates too much power, close to all power, in the hands of the distributer.

Why you cannot always trust social media: a practical example

Portrait of Nikita S. Khrushchev
Portrait of Nikita S. Khrushchev (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading more about the excellent Red Plenty – I came across this discussion on the US blog “Crooked Timber”.

There are some very odd contributions there – one commentator in particular, Louis Proyect, waxes on and on and in ignorance of the book’s real content (he has not read it, he says), about its flaws… ignore that and read a copy, it’s brilliant.

But the discussion also contains something worse than the at-length views of a loud-mouthed know-it-all –  a link to an page for ‘Khrushchev Lied: The Evidence That Every “Revelation” of Stalin’s (and Beria’s) Crimes in Nikita Khrushchev’s Infamous “Secret Speech” to the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on February 25, 1956, is Provably False’.

My interest here is not in the likely psychotic state of the author (I am assuming that Grover Furr did not write such a ludicrous book as a way of making fun of Stalinists) – but that on it has 6 five star reviews – the first of which has been found “helpful by 26 out of 29 readers” (it was out of 28 before I got there), and all of which are rated positively.

In other words a cult of Stalin freaks, people who lust for the GuLags and Nazi-Soviet pacts, revel in anti-Semitism and mass deportations, famine and slaughter, have been able to fix up the Amazon social media recommendation system without many people spotting what they were up to.

So … (a) remember this when you next rely on nothing but a social media recommendation to make a purchase and (b) go there and vote these reviews as unhelpful. That is the least any of us can do to honour the many millions of victims of Stalinism.