Feeds

Apple patent endangers unbiased product reviews

Replaces reviewers with predictors

High performance access to file storage

Apple has filed a patent application for an online-store product-review system that turns the ideal of unbiased product evaluation on its head.

"The present invention relates to electronic commerce," the application reads, "and more specifically to using the collective wisdom of a community to predict rankings for items for sale in an electronic store."

Many "collective wisdom" product-evaluation systems currently exist, of course, from Amazon to Epinions to Yelp and more. Many more.

What makes Apple's filing unusual is that the system it describes "provides an incentive for individuals in the group of individuals whose associated predictive ranking coincides with the actual ranking of the item."

In other words, reviewers in Apple's proposed system don't actually review products – apps, songs, whatever – they predict how well those products will sell, and slant their reviews and rankings accordingly. The more accurate their predictions, the more the reviewers are rewarded with "incentives".

Those incentives can be as simple as "tangible or intangible incentives ... such as credibility points, exclusive media (such as songs, photos, user icons, etc.), and others."

Or the incentives can be cash, and that cash can come from "the media producer (i.e. a singer, artist, software publisher, and so forth) ... to generate promotional interest in their item in the online store."

Apple 'social networking store' patent illustration

In Apple's proposed system, the better a reviewer's predictions match #410, the more #414 they receive

This is troubling. Essentially, media producers would be paying for predictions of their offerings' success.

In addition, reviewers – predictors, actually – would be incentivized not to reward quality, but to lead purchasers to the products for which the reviewers might receive the highest rewards.

Now, it might be possible to shield reviewers predictors – and, perhaps more important, their handlers – from the knowledge of which media producers provide the highest rewards, but anyone who has ever produced product reviews for, say, a computer magazine knows that an advertising sales force frequently takes it on the chin from aggrieved advertisers when a product receives an unfavorable review.

Despite what suspicious readers often claim, most of today's product reviewers are scrupulous about not letting advertising dollars affect their evaluations. However, today's professional reviewers are being paid a flat rate whether their reviews make advertisers happy or not – although, admittedly, a publisher might tell a reviewer to hit the road if that worthy pisses of a deep-pockets advertiser one time too many.

In Apple's scheme, reviewers are "incentivized" not to evaluate products in an unbiased way, but instead are paid to predict a product's market performance – paid with money provided by the producer of that product. And the wall between advertising revenue and unbiased reviews crumbles a bit.

To be fair, an argument could be made that because reviewers would also be paid if their unfavorable predictions were accurate, Apple proposed system is not that different from the current one in which advertisers pay the freight, good review or bad. But since positive product reviews engender positive product sales, a reviewer's prediction wouldn't take place in a vacuum: more positive reviews would produce more sales, making that review's positive prediction more accurate, and making that advertiser happier and triggering more incentives.

The filing also provides another protection intended to guard against bias: easy predictions would be rewarded less than risky ones: "For example," it reads, "if an extremely popular musician who has had multiple top 10 albums releases a new album, then a successful prediction of an expected result can be worth less. As another example, if a completely unknown musician with no previously released albums releases a new album, then a successful prediction of an expected result can be worth more."

But to make that system work to a reviewer's financial advantage, that "less" would need to be a lot less, and that "more" would need to be a lot more. It's asking a lot of a reviewer to not be incentivized to benefit from many easy, less well-paid predictions rather than for them to hope for the occasional lucky, better-paid guess.

The change in the role of a product reviewer that's outlined in Apple's filing may appear to be subtle, but by rewarding reviewers to predict a product's market acceptance rather than employing them to use their expertise to inform and advise potential purchasers would be a first step down a steep and slippery slope. ®

SANS - Survey on application security programs

More from The Register

next story
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
Audio fans, prepare yourself for the Second Coming ... of Blu-ray
High Fidelity Pure Audio – is this what your ears have been waiting for?
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Apple DOMINATES the Valley, rakes in more profit than Google, HP, Intel, Cisco COMBINED
Cook & Co. also pay more taxes than those four worthies PLUS eBay and Oracle
Number crunching suggests Yahoo! US is worth less than nothing
China and Japan holdings worth more than entire company
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.