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Busted: Facebook Portal gets 5-star reviews from company employees

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Facebook’s Portal and Portal+ smart displays weren’t particularly well received when they launched a couple of months back. Digital Trends, for example, could only muster a 2.5 out of a possible five in its less-than-lukewarm review of the larger of the two devices.

With that being the case, any 5-star reviews of the Portal tend to stand out. In fact, glowing recommendations of the device by Amazon shoppers prompted New York Times reporter Kevin Roose to take a closer look.

His diligence paid off when he discovered this week that at least three of the reviews had been written by folks with “the same name as Facebook employees.”

Some might suggest that those behind the posts may merely have been non-employees who just happen to have the same name as the Facebook folks — or that the reviews were perhaps the work of miscreants out to make trouble for the social networking company — but a Facebook executive appeared to confirm the misdemeanor on Thursday, January 17 after announcing that the writers of the reviews will be ordered to remove them.

One appeared on November 26, 2018, right after the launch of Facebook’s two smart displays. Another was posted on December 7, and another appeared five days after that. Oren Hafif’s review praised the “amazing” camera tracking and the “pretty impressive” sound quality of his Portal, while Javier Cubria said that the camera “worked really well” and that the camera tracking was “really cool.”

The one that really stands out, however, was posted by Tim Chappell, who claimed he wasn’t “a big Facebook or other social media user,” adding, “but I took a chance and got 4 Portals and 1 Portal plus for the family.”

Of course, it could be that the reviewers in question were genuinely delighted with their Portal smart displays, but it’s poor form for an employee to sing the praises of a device while conveniently forgetting to mention that you work for the company. In fact, Reese pointed out in a tweet on Thursday that “reviewing your employer’s products is definitely against Amazon’s rules,” adding, “It’s also not exactly an indicator of confidence in how well they’re selling organically!”

Responding, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president for AR/VR, was keen to dispel any notion that the reviews had been posted as part of an orchestrated campaign to paint the Portal in a more positive light, tweeting that the reviews had not been “coordinated nor directed from the company.” He even quoted part of an internal message sent to employees when the Portal launched, instructing them to refrain from any such shenanigans: “We, unequivocally, DO NOT want Facebook employees to engage in leaving reviews for the products that we sell to Amazon,” the directive said.

Bosworth added that the company intended to ask the reviewers to take down their posts from Amazon’s site.

In a more serious case of fake reviews where a company was judged to have been involved, Samsung’s Taiwan base found itself in big trouble in 2013 after it was caught paying students and bloggers to post messages aimed at harming the reputation of rival firm HTC. The South Korean tech giant was subsequently hit with a fine of around $350,000.

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