Amidst all the excitement over the Galaxy S4, the Taiwanese Fair Trade Commission is looking deeper into allegations that Samsung hired students to troll the comments sections of rival products, specifically those of HTC (see our report from earlier this week).
Surprised? You shouldn't be. The company was reprimanded earlier this year by Taiwanese authorities for misleading advertising of a camera.
Each time, Samsung pulls the classic "Oh no! These are not our policies." Policies are one thing, but actions are another. Any large company certainly has idealised business practices. Something like this happens often, I'm sure, but it is hard to get caught.
Microsoft pulled this stunt when OS/2 was battling early versions of Windows. Commenters would swarm around reviews like flies around rot to declare the superiority of Windows and bash anyone who said otherwise. It was obvious what was going on, but nobody could stop it. Windows eventually became the standard PC operating systems and so here we are again with Windows 8, fading PC sales, and no competition.
To me this episode in corporate skulduggery only re-emphasises the problem with public commentary. Anonymity is unimportant. Numerous flaws exist, including the fact that the humorous comments overtake the article itself. Commenters can also be more outrageous and controversial than a writer could ever be, for fear that he or she would get fired.
But at least most of the time those commenters know what they are talking about. That's not always the case. Imagine reading the following comment in a thread discussing some amplifier you were thinking of buying:
"I had that amp once. I'd never own one again. The output transistors cannot handle half the load and consistently blow out along with much of the amp circuitry. SAVE YOUR MONEY!"
This sort of thing planted by the competition will indeed kill sales no matter what others say in the thread. Commenters make all sorts of wild claims and they cannot be controlled. I used to think that Yelp had an effective review system, but I don’t think so anymore. Functioning comment sections must be vetted and have monitored "members" like MetaFilter.com does.
And while Samsung was busted because someone apparently found a memo from the company describing its solicitation for bogus commenters, you can be certain most companies are employing a couple of stooges to post fake feedback. While this is all essential to survival, it makes all comments suspect and thus useless.
If you just want a good laugh, then by all means, read them. But if you want to understand the ins and outs of a product, you're going to have to rely on the top professional reviewers. That means writers not on a manufacturer's payroll.