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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Audio fans, prepare yourself for the Second Coming ... of Blu-ray
High Fidelity Pure Audio – is this what your ears have been waiting for?
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
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
It may be ILLEGAL to run Heartbleed health checks – IT lawyer
Do the right thing, earn up to 10 years in clink
France bans managers from contacting workers outside business hours
«Email? Mais non ... il est plus tard que six heures du soir!»
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
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.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.