Carbonite CEO Apologizes for Planted Amazon Reviews, But Bristles at Critics
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Goldensteinberg offered the Carbonite story to him as an exclusive. Pogue recounted how Goldensteinberg had linked the reviews back to Carbonite. Then he came down hard on the company, saying:
“It doesn’t matter to me that Carbonite’s fraudulent reviews are a couple of years old. These people are gaming the system, deceiving the public to enrich themselves. They should be deeply ashamed, and I thank Bruce Goldensteinberg for helping me embarrass Carbonite’s sleazy practices as publicly as possible.”
Friend sent Pogue an e-mail response, which Pogue swiftly published as an update. Friend’s message said:
“These ‘reviews’ on Amazon from 2006 should have sourced the authors as Carbonite employees. I will personally see that the reviews are updated to disclose their employment affiliation. Had they been brought to my attention, they would have been removed long ago. We do have a policy about such things. I apologize to anyone who was misled by these postings.”
To which Pogue added his own postscript:
“That’s great that Carbonite is cleaning up its act—now, after it’s been caught. But Mr. Friend’s implication that he didn’t know about the phony Amazon reviews is a bit suspect. In fact, they WERE brought to Mr. Friend’s attention-in the comments for this Bits blog post from this past September. Mr. Friend himself replied. (His comment is #29.)”
The Bits blog comments to which Pogue referred were in response to a September 11, 2008 post on Carbonite and Mozy by Times writer Claire Caine Miller. As Goldensteinberg explains in his own post from Sunday, he left a comment on Miller’s post under another pseudonym, “Joe,” in which he wrote, among other things, that “some of Carbonite’s reviews on Amazon.com are written by Carbonite employees—no joke! and of course they dont [sic] admit their conflict of interest.” (It’s the fourth comment in the series, if you want to check it out.)
Friend later contributed a comment on the same article. Pogue seems to be implying that since Friend had contributed a comment, he must also have seen the earlier comment from “Joe,” and that he must therefore have known about the planted Amazon reviews for several months before doing anything about them.
But Friend says he never saw “Joe’s” comment. “That’s not the way I post,” Friend says. “There are probably 20 or 30 mentions of Carbonite in the blogs every day, and our media person here cuts out the ones she thinks I ought to respond to and e-mails them to me.”
Friend told me he was unhappy about the way Pogue handled the story. Specifically, Friend said he would have liked to have the opportunity to respond to Goldensteinberg’s revelations before Pogue posted his piece.
“I wish Pogue had had the decency to call us before he started dragging up stuff from three years ago, without even a chance for us to reply,” Friend says. “I’ve been a subscriber of the New York Times for 25 years, and I’m really surprised that a reporter of his caliber would…sensationalize something like this without even seeking a comment from the so-called offender.”
In regard to Pogue’s postscript, Friend says: “I thought it was kind of snotty. He printed my letter explaining that it happened once, that policies have been put in place, that it hasn’t happened again, and that I apologized to everyone who was misled. Then he goes on with innuendo that I should have known about it, which is just false.”
I e-mailed David Pogue early Wednesday afternoon to ask for his responses to Friend’s comments. I haven’t received a response as of this writing; if I do, I’ll update this post.
Goldensteinberg, meanwhile, told me via e-mail that he thinks his September comment and later comments on the Miller post should have tipped Carbonite off about the problem: “Even accepting the dubious premise that Friend did not read all 28 comments, at the very least, [Carbonite customer service manager] Len Pallazola appeared twice on the thread, and responded specifically to the comment made by me, ‘joe.’ In my first comment as ‘joe,’ I mention the issue of the reviews on Amazon. I mentioned it again in my 2nd comment as ‘joe. ‘ And finally, at comment 26, I mentioned how three favorable reviews appeared after Len’s posting, as being suspicious. Friend’s comment was #29. At the very least, he had to go to the Web page where this thread was, and scroll down to the end of the comments (28 at that time), and then type in his name before posting. This means he had comment 26 right in front of his eyes. While I don’t mention the Amazon reviews in comment 26, I do mention fake reviews and Carbonite. Any diligent CEO should have seen that, and it should have made a light bulb go off and investigate the matter of fake reviews further.”