Fake positive reviews of Belkin products were actively solicited by one of its employees, the company admitted on Sunday.
Belkin, a networking and peripheral manufacturer, apologised for the worker's actions, which sought to artificially boost Belkin's status on Amazon while denigrating existing bad reviews.
On Friday, The Daily Background website revealed how someone, apparently Belkin business-development representative Mark Bayard, had used the Mechanical Turk service to ask users to write positive reviews of a Belkin product at a rate of 65 US cents (45p) per review. The requests made it clear that writers need have no experience of, nor even own, the product in question. Mechanical Turk is an online clearing-house for small jobs that cannot be done by machine, such as writing product descriptions. It is, coincidentally, run by Amazon.
In a letter posted on the company's website on Sunday, Belkin president Mark Reynoso said the solicitations had been "an isolated incident".
"It was with great surprise and dismay when we discovered that one of our employees may have posted a number of queries on the Amazon Mechanical Turk website inviting users to post positive reviews of Belkin products in exchange for payment," Reynoso wrote.
"Belkin does not participate in, nor does it endorse, unethical practices like this. We know that people look to online user reviews for unbiased opinions from fellow users and instances like this challenge the implicit trust that is placed in this interaction. We regard our responsibility to our user community as sacred, and we are extremely sorry that this happened."
Reynoso said Belkin had "acted swiftly" to remove all the review requests from the Mechanical Turk system, and was "working closely with our online channel partners to ensure that any reviews that may have been placed due to these postings have been removed".
"It's also important to recognise that our retail partners had no knowledge of, or participation in, these postings," Reynoso wrote. "Once again, we apologise for this occurrence, and we will work earnestly to regain the trust we have lost."
According to The Daily Background, the product for which the positive reviews were requested was Belkin's wireless F5U301 USB2.0 hub and dongle, listed on Amazon.com. On Monday, the listing for that product on Amazon.com showed a rating of one-and-a-half stars out of five.