« Reveal

Catching Amazon in a Lie

2020-09-26 | 🔗

Amazon says its warehouses are safe for workers, but we’ve obtained numbers that show they’re getting hurt much more often than the company claims.

Don’t miss out on the next big story. Get the Weekly Reveal newsletter today.

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Support for Pierre acts comes from Ex with school back in session. Expenditure is committed to helping kids continue to learn, no matter where they are their providing affordable internet access to low income families through their internet essentials programme its. Why they're working twenty four seven to keep your network fast, reliable and secure and helping college student study and stay connected through their university Graham expenditure is committed to helping your family stay connected and learn. This school year learn more at expended each dot com, slash education, support comes from MSNBC in an election year like no other. There are no less than six weeks until November Third election day, Tuesday,
Donald Trump and Joe Biden go head to head in the first presidential debate, Joint Rachel Matter, a co, Wallace Joy, Red Brian Williams, MSNBC team of political experts. With the analysis you need on how this debate would form the final weeks of the election and Steve connection will break down the latest data for you at the Big board. The first presidential debate Watch Tuesday at eight p M Eastern MSNBC. From the centre for investigative reporting in p r eggs. This is reveal a mallet over nineteen through the world into its worst economic crisis. Since the great depression, but for some giant companies, the corona Vires has been good for business, Amazon became an even bigger A sheltering in place drove a surge in internet sales. May I unstoppable Cuz, I'm hitting fresh records on Thursday, adding to its fifty seven percent gain for the year Amazon, founder joyfully,
Those is now far and away the world's richest person as well. That means ever barely Amazon, CEO across a major milestone of on his neck in one due to a basis. Eighteen billion dollars to his personal fortunes, thirteen billion since a pandemic began the company his face criticism for being slow to protect its employees from the corona virus, but he sent shareholder meeting basal said nothing is more important than the health and well being of our employees, He also said the company is using its immense size for good and we want people to know the truth about Amazon and how use our scale for good and we welcome. The scrutiny did good for us. Baisers welcomes the scrutiny. He says it's good frame as well. All right, then, reveal has been investigating workers safety at Amazon for over a year before the holidays? We told you about dangerous warehouses
I've seen me, injuries. I've seen shoulder injuries, I've seen people poor things out and cut themselves at one of them. In southern California. Workers said the company refuse to evacuate after a ghastly is anyone's Becker enter. Yet at another, warehouse in Indiana worker was killed on the job it came down on the individual attack, those working on it a crumpled. These folded, ok, bizarre, denies that its warehouses are unsafe, but hasn't been willing to make public its injury data, even though they have to report to the government. Far first story: we talked dozens of current informer warehouse workers and pieced together injury records for twenty three fulfilment centres, but that's all just a part of the story. Does Amazon has many more warehouses. Now we have a much more complete pitcher our, boarding inspired and anonymous source
They shared with Us Amazon's worker injury data for its nation, wide network of fulfilment centres around a hundred and fifty of them, and the records go back to twenty sixteen reveals. Will Evans is here now to break it all down force, hey will pale, but he's a big pitcher. What is this data show us bottom line. There are a lot of injuries at Amazon. The warehouse has had a serious injury rate, nearly twice the industry average. Those are injuries that require time off work or being given another job. To do. Last year, Amazon had more than fourteen thousand serious injuries at its warehouses. So. What did you learn that you didn't know before? There is a big difference between what Amazon says is happening at its warehouses and what its own record show and what they say about workers safety, often just isn't true. Ok, I'm ready
What are you for me well executives at Amazon, often talk about how safety is the most important thing, its top priority: here's Jeff Wilkie on PBS Frontline earlier this year from the moment the IRA. Twenty years ago I mean very clear to our operations teams that we will not compromise the safety of our employees to do anything else. Data shows they have been compromising between twenty sixteen into nineteen as demands on work. We're going up so we're injuries. They did. Even meet their own internal safety goals there tens of millions of dollars on safety initiatives. They say they're going to say a billion this year, but instead of getting better The injury numbers have been getting worse over the last four years, so it's been more likely you'll get hurt if you work at Amazon yeah and some of these injuries can have really lasting consequences. Last fall. We met Candice Dixon in Southern California.
Her job, was to scan and load items in racks over and over and quickly eleven seconds was. The goal is a hard to meet if she didn't that rate. One item every Levin seconds: she could be written eventually even fired one shift. Candice handles many heavy items in a row. She threw out her back so bad, Can you and tell you like just I would have these sharp pains in the middle of my back excursion in pain. I was crying and the type of person that just likes to continue working. I'm I linked to give up- and I like to do my job well, so I just kept going. Yeah, remember Candice from our last story, so how's she doing not so great. I talked to recently in it's been more than two years since her injury and she still in a lot of pain, She stars a hard time doing basic things she had to leave job Amazon workers, com settlement and not a while ago, she's barely scraping by as she keeps
king for a new job that she can do with her back problems, and it makes you feel sick every time she d by that by that Amazon Warehouse to work at an hour at this kind of makes my stomach and it makes a the two because you know here. I have this injury that should never ever happened, and it's not getting better. So like a lifetime thing for me, those terrible in Do we know? What's happening these days at her warehouse yeah there? more than six hundred serious injuries there. Last year it was four times worse than the industry average a castle. What's Amazon doing wrong? What was the problem lot of people say? It boils down to speed. The workers have to move too many things too quickly their bodies where down and they end up taking shortcuts, like not taking the time to grab a ladder and standing on your tiptoes. That's how accidents happen now, Amazon claims workers can just speak up. If there is an issue with speed, here's Amazon exist,
it Jeff Wilkie again on frontline. So we have. We have a culture that, if, if we are asking people to do something, that is that that they have to do to fast to be safe, they can raise and I say this is a right and an will fix it, but that wasn't Austin whence experience. They said. Safety is a priority, but it was very prevalent that safety was second too productivity. His job was to monitor injuries and give first stayed at the Amazon Warehouse in Du Pont Washington. Ironically in twenty nineteen, that Amazon Fulfilment Centre not far from Amazon's headquarters in Seattle had the highest injury rate out of all of them. He was there about two years and he saw them. Try some interesting things. In the name of safety like pizza,
but he's for groups of workers if there weren't any injuries for awhile privilege how eyesight or offering memorial for not reporting injuries, cause you're cornering people like you, you're gonna, pissed, off forty nine people. If you there were two hours away from. Pizza. You got injure now they don't get pizza. No one wants to stand in the way of their colleagues getting pizza seriously, but beyond pizza parties. Amazon. Wouldn't do the one thing Austin said, could really make a difference in the end, I dont think is the heart of an issue, its lower the rate, in other words, reduce the rate of items and employee has to process every hour. I don't think that was ever an auction in their head. One thing that helps set the fast pace of the warehouse were Austin worked. Are the robots people work side by side with robots at about fifty of Amazon's warehouses, and these
robots? Everyone says they look like giant room buzz and zip around the warehouse floor, bringing tall racks of products to workers Amazon, uses them to make the warehouse as efficient as possible, and the humans have to keep up, but Jeff Wilkie told Frontline. That robots are good for Eighty, so what happens? Is the robots change the work, so they allow us people enough to walk as far which is a complaint that referred in the past. They make the job safer. They make them. So let me get this Amazon is claiming that robots make humans jobs, safer, yeah, that's what they say, but the data doesn't back it up. We looked at the most common type of Amazon Fulfilment Centre where most of your packages come from. Some have robots and some down, and we found that the ones with robots had a serious injury more than fifty percent higher than those without the sounds like something out of science to are the robots in humans at war, not exactly it gets back to speed
zone is using the robots to ratchet up the pace. I showed our data to Mark Wolfram in industry experts and he compares what's happening to raising the speed limit on a highway, a shave, guiche region on Irish sixty miles an hour. We gotta get ready fashion, orthodox or something we know when we do that. There's gonna be more accidents on our right, and so, if you tell people to work faster in a highly competitive environment, you're not having church rush about- and this is the direction Amazon's heading- towards more warehouses with robots. I almost hate to ask this would have storing crunch time when they're getting more orders than usual like during the holiday season, good question so bodies in Amazon is called peak, and it's really intense long shifts mandatory over
I'm an lot of new inexperienced workers, cramming into the warehouses another busy time. Is around prime day. Find it if you don't want to miss July 15th through the 16th, but Amazon has repeatedly said to us and other media. Injury rates do not spike during these busy times, and what did you find that it's just not true, Amazon's own data shows that their injury rates do spike around Prime day and The holidays, like Cyber Monday and Amazon, knew this when they told us the exact opposite, we saw it in their internal reports. Let me list just call it what it is. Sometimes they lie. How else do they spin was really happening well last year, when we first came to them about their numbers. They told us that their injury rates look high because they're, so conscientious about recording all their injuries, they claim that they have an aggressive stance on work
darting injuries, no matter how big or small that's now, one other standard lines? Here's J Carney, the company's senior vice president of global corporate affairs on CNBC earlier this year on the contrary, injuries are woefully under reported. That was true. Amazon the number of years ago, and then we change the way. We report injuries that spike the numbers for us. We we report well above which required by, OSHA, but we did it because we wanted the data we wanted to know exactly what was happening. So we can invest accordingly to improve the working conditions for our work. So now you're gonna tell me that's not true correct. He sang the company over counts the number of injuries, but we found that sometimes there under counting them. How do they do we'll so, companies like Amazon have to report work injuries to the federal government, but they only have to tell
about ones that need some kind of special attention like time off or medical care beyond. First aid, these are called recordable injuries. We found evidence the Amazon has made injuries like this just disappear. So how does that work? Will we found a really clear example of this at a warehouse near Denver. It was having a problem with high injury rates and we got these internal reports. They show Amazon felt. The meadow providers treating their workers were handing out too many job restrictions. Things like us Wait, heavy lifting or don't walk up stairs doctors order, those kinds of restrictions, so injuries can heal, but it means Amazon has to count those injuries on their OSHA logs. So fired one clinic and hired another medical clinic advanced urgent care and occupational medicine that advertises it will help companies by keeping injuries. Not recordable,
and after that, the injury numbers at the same warehouse started to go down so good NEWS for Amazon? Yet it wasn't pretty, though I talked to a few medical providers who work that new clinic they are wanted, be anonymous because they worried about retaliation. A nurse practitioner told me the playbook was simple coming to require by don't make it recordable that, The instruction injured, Amazon workers would come in and after
zooming them. She knew that what some of them needed was lighter duty work to recover, but she said her bosses, wouldn't let her do that because it would make Amazon have to count the injury. I told her about Amazon's claim that they go above and beyond the count. Injuries encrusted inaccurate for her keeping injuries off the books. Men under treating the workers she says instead of doing what was best for the patient. She had to do what was best for Amazon, nobody like doing because we always had a felt like we had watched I've already, that we couldn't treats the patient, how weak that they need to be treated. I heard that from other medical providers there too. What did the clinic say about all this? While I talked to the owner
of the company doktor Tony user, and he told me there's no policy to deny job restrictions, but there is pressure from companies like Amazon, we're about to determine the this whole juggling. Processing companies isn't worth it and work doing work first, what was in competition alone, because it's just too much it's just too much hassle factor of trying to balance between employees and employers, and it's not worth it. That means, as of next year, Amazon's gonna need a new clinic, will we heard at the beginning of this story that Amazon welcome scrutiny and over the summer they gotta mister, Those in July, twenty nineteen, your employer, needs Sutton, told me under oath in this committee. The Amis Dots Congress woman, Priscilla Jaya Paul she represents Seattle
Amazon his headquarters. This was an anti trust hearing. Some members Congress are alarmed by how big and powerful the company is getting, but Congresswoman Jaya Paul also worries about workers. Safety. She told reveal in an interview that she has doubts about what Amazon exacts are telling her. I don't know that, information, I'm getting from Amazon is accurate because, mostly Amazon, denies that anything is happening, and as that there is a vast network of people who are simply reporting on things to make them look bad. I just don't believe that How is it possible that they are getting away with all this mean they're lying? Aren't they yes, some of its lies in some of its spin and some of its that the government doesn't do much even when they find out
problems in New Jersey, OSHA, repeatedly criticised the care, the Amazon was giving injured workers but didn't issue any citations and Amazon got caught under counting injuries, but it was fine, just seven thousand, there's a seven thousand dollar fine for one of the world's biggest companies ok, I really want to hear what these executives have to say for themselves. Could you get any of them to talk while we are for interviews with key Amazon executives. Jeff Wilkie Dave Clark, J Cars Heather Macdougall, but none of them would talk to us and the company refused to answer detailed questions we sent them. Instead, they sent a general statement. It says nothing is more important than the health and say Do you have our teams and it goes on to talk about all the money there. Spending on safety things like protecting workers from forklifts and improving work stations,
they're, even creating wellness programmes to encourage workers to stretch and meditate at their workstations. They said these poor Rooms are working and repeated the claim that robotics are making jobs safer, but wait. We just heard that the data contradicts that yeah Ask them specifically about what their own data shows. They completely ignored. Those questions. And they didn't give us any new numbers to back up their safety claims. Those was Will Evans. Our story was produced by Catherine Gasket, even though Amazon's not counting all of its injuries, its number, a high enough that you think regulators will do something about when we get back the story of how the federal government decided to regulate the most common type of Workplace injury then changed its mind. Your life to reveal,
reveal is supported by indeed right now, small businesses have to be more efficient than ever. That means every higher is critical. Indeed, is here to help. Indeed, dot com is the number one job site, because they get you the best people fast. You only pay for what you need and you can pause your account at any time, indeed, is offering our listeners a free. Seventy five dollar credit to boost the visibility of your job post at indeed dot com, slash, reveal, indeed dot. Com, slash reveal terms and conditions apply, offer valid through December. Thirty. First.
Here is another show you might want to listen to the world in international new show covering politics, culture, business, science and more this year the world has been reporting. The stories of young latino voters, indifferent corners of the United States as they decide how to cast their vote. For the very first time a pandemic is up, ended their lives, racial reckoning and other issues are shaping their political views. Will they turn out to vote, find F, subscribed to the world on Apple pod casts or at the world dot? Org from the centre for investigative reporting, it p r ex this is revealed analysis at Amazon Fulfilment Centres. Most of the on the job injuries come from bad economics, their caused by repetition,
working in awkward positions or putting strain on the body and they're a huge problem in other industries to hotel maids, whose backs are blown out from decades of lifting mattresses to change sheets. Quote you workers, with chronic nerve damage from hanging ten thousand chickens headed for slaughter each day. Oh sure, requires companies to protect workers from common injuries in all kinds of industries, from construction to logging but there's no fiddle rule to protect workers from their economic injuries, to understand why you have to go back in time, reveals jungle and takes us there. Actually, you have, go way back to the year. Two thousand the move
he gladiator is huge. Everyone is watching the tv show survivor and there's this famous Budweiser commercial. That's around the time when Divine Toronto started working at Budweiser, running quality control tests on the beer or tests in it for iron words, s net for ammonia boards estimate, for you from bacteria, is to ensure that its safe for the public, all around said, days a week for thirteen years, Devonshire did small controlled hand, motions swirling flasks, holding shaking centrifuges Budweiser testing instructions always ended with repeated again repeated again to ensure that we're getting the same result. Devonshire started to notice something about our hands. Her finger, Tipps started going Numb then came intense pay.
In former neck down to a risk. One day she walked under the factory floor and grabbed a case of beer for testing, and I dropped the case. At that point, I thought I was gonna pass out. I went down a one me. I just got a ball of lightning hit me divorce, her doctors, who told her she had come tunnel, there was work. Related physical therapy help relieve the pressure on the nerve and her hand, but when Devonshire reach turn to work. The pain always rushed back. It got to the point where she couldn't unscrew a water bottle cap. She follower compensation claim against an Heizer Bush, the company that owns Budweiser the next year. She says they fired her for being unable to keep up with our job then, when her daughter was an infant, this happened. I picked her up and she had the floor.
And I will never forget that screen and that look that she gave me. It was a look of it. I can't believe you just drop me ass. She was She kept fighting in has for workers com, but Devonshire, says company managers refuse to accept that injury was work related. Asked Analyzer Bush for an interview and sent them specific questions about divined as case, but they never responded. There were no government regulations to protect a Vondra, but what she didn't know was right around the time she started working there almost were most american workers had no ability to stir was is from abusing them with dangerous workloads. The union's were fed up, workers and other industries were fed up and we finally have the ability to set those limits. That's your friend he's a health and safety
There are four unions: he represent a garment and warehouse workers. Any was a voice pushing for ergonomics protections and President Clinton's They were an apartment there. Listening, we are compelled to act, employees are getting hurt, workers are being sent home. People are suffering it's time for Us to move on. There was a lot of momentum behind the rule, which would have force companies to limit how much workers could lift banned or twist and how many times they did the same task. It was a decade and making, and one of the last steps in the process was a series of hearings for public com. And it would be a very good idea if no one sits in those first couple of seats in the first row unwise you the? U S chamber, of commerce descended on the capital. I would think a very good idea if no one sits in those first couple of seats in the first row Otherwise we run the risk of getting run over by an attorney rushing to get to the party
does a hearing room in Washington DC in two thousand. It looks like an hour fer a school play, except with a judge and a bunch of OSHA bureaucrats. On the stage behind on long draped table see the gentleman I think you're in the third or fourth who had his hand up the gentleman in the third or fourth row it was one of the lawyers representing analyzer Bush and the others. One minute he awkwardly carries a whiteboard out of the darkness and onto the stage he tries making a joke. About back injuries. He returns to the podium at the foot of the stage in gathers is papers. I'm a Eugene Scalia representing several clients in this rulemaking, including the razor slender, thirty something guy with dark, intense eyes. If I could begin and direct, my question is: oh yeah,
You happen to be the son of a sitting Supreme Court Justice Antony Scalia. He launches a cross examination like you'd, see and law and order, if differ a physician did that employee needs to sharply cultural activity for a period of time. Would you regard Have you as wacky, even though there a lot of science to support economic protection from things like repetitive, motions or assembly lines that move too fast Scalia attacked it. He called it junk science, but fell. Wistfully is teammate at these hearings. The one thing that this country and no workplace can afford is for some scientists, this finger up in the air with a wet part and say: oh, this is where science is going for. The scientists it was rattling. Woodsia
Ocean that comes to mind when you think of that experience intimidating. This was tough cross examination bomb. Harrison was a researcher and doktor who treated injured workers. He remembers Scully grilling the scientists at the hearings interrupting them as soon as they got into any detail, saying things like, I don't think I'll permit you to waste my time. In that way, evidently, you think, that's a silly exercise, its a well practised attempt that I now understand to doubt myself and doubt my own credibility and research as a doctor and a scientist Scully had another tactic, he used to cast doubt on the connection between repetitive motion and ergonomic injuries. So if you have ninety five papers that show this link and five papers that show that does not a link its pretty easy to make Hey out of the five papers.
The show. There's not a link, not only did Scully a tear into the science. He went after regulators drilling ocean experts with hypotheticals at a House Sub Committee hearing Scullion says a worker could hurt himself playing football on the weekend. Eric firm sitting right next to Scalia when he said that you would think that a lobbyist of that stature working for one of the largest law firms in the country with extraordinary access to corporate resources would have been able to find an example of that if it existed and run out the flagpole and bring in the papers from the contested workers comp hearing where the employer Heather photographs of Johnny Jones playing Football on Sunday night coming into work on Monday reporting in injury, signing it, and the
We are fighting that all the way to the court of appeals in the state of God knows where, in the judges saying to the employer, you're wrong, this guy's entitled the cup except he didn't And he never tried to bring the facts. The bear he was just good peddling fear asked Scully and his team wine doing mad lead in two thousand. Government guidelines aimed at making the workplace ergonomics early, Correct Clinton, administration, enacted the ergonomic rules, which would affect all workers except those who are self employed or in the agricultural unions, worth thrill well, it was great that we won. This was the set of rules that were going to free american workers from abusive workloads, give people the feeling blue collar workers manual workers, low wage workers at the government. Actually could
something for them or could it as its possible countries tsar to Orient or stores something's happened. George Bush is the programme in the work of the United States is one the state or Ford or according to our projections after we wanted the close, his presidential races in? U S, history, George W Bush and not Al Gore moved to the White House and Republicans took Congress with months ergonomics were being debated again. The clerk will read The joint resolution for the third time signed a joint resolution. Six, providing from this time they so I have little known law called the Congressional Review ACT. It lets Congress, take a second look at any rule made by a federal agency. Mister M vote on Mr Bond, bond to labour every I'm in labour and industry, was watching browser. My office phase in New York, I guess I was watching it unceasingly.
The Yea Sir Fifty six, the Naser forty four and Senate joint resolution six is passed. The ergonomics rule was repealed. How are you Feeling at that moment did you have broken absolutely heartbroken? Do you remember what you did in those moments after it failed, but probably not going to drink or something I was pretty miserable. It was the first time a regulation and been repealed. This way and here's the other thing about the Congressional Review ACT. Once a regulation is overturned agencies. Forbidden from writing another one like it. In the end Scully a one any quickly, vaulted into government, not long after he was nominated Labour solicitor, which is the labour departments chief lawyer? They play a me Your role in enforcing many federal labour laws and developing rules. At his confirmation hearing
Senator John Edwards had a simple question: Friskily, would you agree One of your responsibilities for this position that you ve been nominated for, would be to represent day. Labourers the working people around math. My responsibility would be to represent the government of United States and enforced the laws I show, video that moment Eric Furman. They took him seven seconds to figure out. That was his answer and never once did he mention lifting up America's workers then. Last year President Trump nominated Scalia. First secretary of labour, raise your right hand repeat estimate your genes solemnly swear. I
Scully. The number of workplace safety inspectors dropped to a forty five year low at the start of the year, and despite the dangers of covert nineteen, the Labour Department has issued any rules. Limit the viruses spread among workers. I wanted to talk to Scalia about this and his work, Mimi Ergonomics were all, but his office never got back to me. So I asked his former partner Baruch Feller huskily has done, I think, is performances. Labour secretary has been extraordinary and exemplary in this country is, lest they had individuals of his intellect and Alan willing to sacrifice for the public and
I would hope that that would be a quote. This pay me wonder about Devonshire Rogers, the an Heizer Bush worker who has crippling pain from her neck to her hands these days, she's on disability and can't work. She takes seven different pills a day for pain, depression. When I tell her the history of their ergonomics battle, her reaction is now. What would you like to see Scalia. Do that would make you feel better about the state of ergonomics in this country. I'd like him to do what he supposed to do for the american people. I'd, like came to say: ok, look, I know the people that put me here, but I need to hold
most people accountable. What do you think that says about our nation that there are no rules around ergonomics? It puts profit above people just plain and simple. Just work you to death until there's nothing left. Story from reveals, Jennifer Government, the death of the economic rule twenty years ago, had a domino effect. Some states tried passing similar regulations, but failed only Kaliko, has an economic rules on the books and how many citations have the head out in five years, just a few back when Budweiser was fighting ergonomic regulations? It was selling beer using ads and commercials these days on and with views have become important sales, but should we believed tat region, This red, like advertisements to me there,
common language through many their reviews, that's next on reveal from the centre reporting in p r ex. This is reveal a mallet, your shopping on Amazon, we're looking for a good restaurant chances. Are you gotta check? what the online reviews say: consumer like them and so do businesses. One marketing firm found the companies with a three point: five, the four point: five star rating on Yelp, sir. Their revenue jump by almost a third, dean lives in the San Francisco Bay area. She turned help when she was looking for doktor. She struggling with anxiety and depression and came across avant care. A group of clinics based in college
yeah. It accepted her insurance and had fantastic reviews on Yelk K was sold, but her first up men didn't go so well. She says the support Deaf in India lost her paperwork and she felt the psychiatrist was destroyed did during their session, so K left them less than glowing review on Yelp? That's when the trouble started. She says savant, threatened her with legal action if she didn't take a review down and then when they started to call me to harass me over my review I developed world anxiety, but also insomnia, which I hadn't had before K, fought back, took savant cared a court in one and the story right well. Not quite The whole experience left K suspicious about the world of online reviews. She starts,
digging and eventually reached out to reporter Laura Seidel, who covers the technical, Laura picks up the story, I'm at case home a large ranch house in a suburb of San Jose, where she was with her husband, retired coastguard officer inside documents in folders or pay high on the dining room table a good stacks of paper here? No one, we added case bank years as a federal investigator, and you can hear in her voice, dispassionate sort of just the facts: mankind of style. I worked as a special agent for the: U S: Department, education, inspector general's office on fraud cases k left that job to raise their children. After her terrible experience with the psychiatrist, it savant care. She couldn't understand how the company could have so many positive reviews. So she took a closer
look there reviews read like advertisements to me. There was common language through many reviews K noticed that some of the reviewers had used full names. So she go. And I landed in Facebook groups, and I was astonished at what I was saying. Kay showed me what she was seen. Tens of thousands of people buying, selling and exchanging reviews? There were the people who write the reviews, businesses that poster views and another layer of brokers and middlemen. It was,
tire marketplace for fake reviews all on Facebook, with posts like this who need strong Yelp reviews. I have twenty plus elite friends in California and three hundred real helpers ready to K. It appeared like pieces of the puzzle. She couldn't quite figure out how to put together K reached out to Yelp Facebook and to law enforcement, but no one seemed interested in following up so she drew on her skills as a fraud investigator. She joined them, these seven of these Facebook groups and that's just a fraction of the total number once inside case says she found all kinds of businesses trying to barter for or by reviews real estate agents, child care, workers, lawyers, dentists, burger joints and more medical doctors. Here she is my aunt JANET pay me. This is K reading from opposed she found on Facebook group.
Called the California Yelp Google Facebook Review Exchange, it's from an elite dermatologist named doktor, JANET before case says she found doctor for five had solicited dozens of fake reviews through Facebook and had high ratings on Yelp and Google but I find some negative reviews. A woman named Megan, O Neill, says she didn't feel her. Health was a priority throughout her appointment with Doktor Buffy. I decide to contact Megan on Yelp and she agrees to talk. It turns out. Megan has a history of skin, cancer last year after moving tell a she started. Looking for a doctor, She went on line to look at reviews on Yelp and Google am, I wanted to say, female dermatologist and doctor, if I had probably two to three times more,
recommendations, reviews than any other doctor in the area. So that was a really big reason why I chose her and why I was excited flat initial appointment, but when she showed doctor but five spots on her scalp, she called it. Pre pre, pre cancerous but I felt was really condescending because I've never had a doctor treat something pre cancerous, so trivially before. On top of that Megan says Doktor Buff I tried to sell her two thousand dollars of skin creams, largely from her personal product line. Megan was furious and she didn't trust before opinion. It took her months to see another specialist because her insurance wooden pay for we should learn from another doctor that the spots were pre cancerous. After all, that Megan says she'll, never trust online reviews. Again, it's one thing: if here I've restaurant trying to claim you have the best Cheesecake Kagan down by when it has to do with someone. You know in the medical,
feel bad has could have serious consequences on someone's house- that's really quite scary and at something I probably wouldn't trust again. I call and even visit doktor vivifies office, but you wanna greeted talk to me about what happened with Mega. I decide to tackle this from a different angle, with Kantians help. I find a person who wrote a fake review for doktor verify and who we can trace back to the Facebook groups, she's reluctant to talk because posting fake reviews easy legal, but she finally agree so long as I only use her first name Tiffany. We you did a star bugs in downtown Santa Cruz, where she's a college student Tiffany tells me she started out. Riding real reviews on yell in fact she wrote so many she earned yelps elite status or its most trusted reviewers. Then last year she was living on an especial a tight budget is somewhere and I add- and I really am
internship like I want to, and I just need some I need extra money and Tiffany soon discovered her yelp elite status was the key to making some cash. She was on Facebook hoping to meet other elites. That's what I was again first and I found yelled exchange and that's what I was interested, because I saw some someone posted fifty two hundred dollars Rio and then I was instantly interested Tiffany, says someone recruited her to write a fake review for doktor before she figured that's easy. I got and sparse and that something I'm familiar whistled, the one I reviewed at the start of this. Something I would do I get a facial here. I would get my skin skin laser treatments here typically was paid forty, seven dollars and fifty cents for the fair.
Review when I tell her about Megan Niels experience with doktor, but by the two thousand dollars skin cream. She recommended her failure to see pre cancerous spots are Megan, scout Tiffany seems remorseful. I hope this is because a I do. I do meds good thing. What little guilty about it yeah I didn't it would harm anyone. Until you taught me like someone, someone got our might yelp. Finally, caught Tiffany enclosed her account, but only after she'd made hundreds of dollars. Writing fake reviews, not bad for a few hours of work before we part Tiffany shows me the of the payment for the doktor, but five review. The money was wire by someone in Auckland, New Zealand
turns out a lot of the companies that pay for fake reviews are outside the? U S, this secret market place the Katy discovered in business owners, exchanging views among themselves and also buying them from brokers who pay people like Tiffany. I want to speak with one of these brokers and I find one he agrees talk as long as I dont use his real name, because brokering fake reviews is also against the law, so I'll call him, and I mean an a coffee shop in a Strip mall about forty five minutes promote away. He tells me he fell into buying selling and trading reviews a few years ago, while he was getting here. MBA. Initially he says he just wanted to start a legal marketing. Business first started out with you know, just doing my facebook average I may do advertise man
However, as you get to meet more local businesses and trying to get clients, you realize that any system, the up, what was it that they were saying when You said they need a system with. Yet what what were? They say? They need to get more exposure, they wanted more traffic, we want it to be. We are on yellow, so it's a numbers came an end, says many business, this feel they have no choice but to play along. There is even a term for this industry of fake reviews, black hat marketing and found workers. Right the reviews really easily college students like Tiffany. This is like the norm This is the norm in the information age. It's because you broke enough. What way are in today with America being a student loan debt, and all that I think Austin will find a way to make extra cash on the side, and this is the easy way to make cash on the side,
before he had a lot of his own reviewers and says he would write fake produce himself. There's one of his reviews. I want to discuss an posted. A review on Savant cares website the psychiatric practice that harassed Katy. I show in the review of this review. I just want to confirm, discuss it. This is a paper. Do you never went to Slovakia? It was by an exchange. I've done a while back and says he doesn't have a record of who contacted him from savant care, but he says it's common practice for businesses to help out with the review. Restaurants might provide a picture of the food dermatologists. Might four up before and after skin pictures. These details are more likely to fool consumers and also Yelp and Google's algorithms. These algorithms screen for common signs of fake reviews,
No one is certain about the scale of all the bakery companies like Yelp, Google and Facebook say they spend vast. Lots of money on those algorithms designed to weed out fraud, but with millions of new reviews posted each day, then if they, MRS small fraction of fakes, that could still mean a lot of fraudulent reviews, make it through in the? U S, the Federal Trade Commission or pc enforces federal laws against online review fraud, but its face criticism for its lax penalties. In one recent case, it found the skin care company guilty of ordering its own employees to write fake reviews, but the only penalty was promised not to do it again at DC, Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter critic, I saw her own agency for being too soft. I think we really need to push for remedies that will send a meaningful message that the behaviour we're looking at is against the law
violating the law is gonna, come with costs that outweigh the benefits to the business of engaging in the violation. Unfortunately, platforms like Google, Yelp and Facebook don't have to take down fake reviews. That's because they dont bear legal responsibility for most of what gets posted on their site. It's a legal loophole that Congress and the Trump Administration or eyeing for possible change,
I mentioned earlier. The K dean had notified Facebook, Yelp and Google about the evidence she compiled of rampant fraud going back as far as twenty seventeen nothing happened. It was only after I contacted yelp earlier this year that they posted alerts on savant care and the five dermatologists websites through a programme they claimed had already been in the works. Soon after I went to the offices of Yelp in downtown San Francisco to meet with Vince Ellida he's there pop pr guy, I why Yelp didn't respond, decays initial evidence against savant care. So how does she end up not feeling and how to users who have experience like hers and up not feeling like when they reach out to you? There sending information into a black hole, but certainly not the case for the last minute
but of users, and in this case I have to investigate further, but when consumers contact us with information, we act upon it. I shown the Facebook groups in other materials K assembled indicating a massive market place for fake reviews. She has figured out literally hundreds of businesses right now engaged in fake review. She's, one woman, you had teams of people, she tried to alert you, given that this one one Did this and you have all the software in all these people? I have to ask you seriously: why should people trust Yelp as a source for honest reviews, because the vast majority Every views are being submitted by consumers are honest to goodness. First, ten experiences and up twenty million businesses, or so there. On the platform, the vast majority are good actors and we use
every means at our disposal to protect the integrity of our content is not perfect and we certainly investigate and do the best we can, but we do believe is the best out there. So Lido repeats this answer over and over we're not perfect, but where the best it's the cul de sac he can't get out of so it keeps going round and round. I literally counted probably about thirty thousand members to groups on Facebook right now, buying selling changing, reviews what's going on here. Why so many of these groups on Facebook have continued to exist for years way off ass Facebook that we certainly will try to work with them in the past to remove groups that are engaging s behaviour and to be fair in years past, when we ve learned them to these groups, they ve taken them down, but obviously not nearly as much of a party.
Them, as is for us a few weeks after meeting with yelp. Another spokesperson followed up with me about case complaint with seven care. She said that the team did the best they could with the evidence they had at the time. I also contacted Facebook and Google and they removed several accounts for violating their terms of service, but neither company would agree to a recorded interview to explain all the fraud they miss Katy. As she has no faith in any of these companies and doesn't think anyone should we can't count on big Tec to be policing themselves. Reopen Facebook and Google they're all profiting this activity on the sites, and they don't have really any incentive to take serious action. Prosecutor and regulators are there not pleasing besides either in so I just wanna get the word up
in case you wondering some countries have taken more aggressive action in the: U K, regulators forced Facebook to take down a hundred and eighty eight groups picking and vague reviews back in the. U S. Similar action is unlikely so consumers, or even more on their own sorting out. What's true and what's false online and in the midst of a pandemic, we It information we can trust about health care providers, clinics suppliers more than ever before in the days before the internet made it possible for ever consumer to leave a review. We relied on the words of someone we knew or we looked at advertisements knowing. That is what they were in the current climate. It may be. Iser to view online reviews as just another kind of bad. That story was from law, as I do early producer for this week shows Catherine was gasping. Jed helpful,
miss Harland Dunaway you tell me to some Michael Montgomery edited. The show thanks there's Andrew Donoghue Esther Kaplan ensue O also It should Elio anomalous Louis Victoria Bear. That's gives our general Council of Production Andrews majuba me score sound designed by the dynamic do o J Breezy, Mr Jim Briggs ever Nando, my man, your router, that help this week from Mustafa r C eel scarce a sharper met subsidies are editor in chief in Arctic, producer is Kevin, Sullivan earthy music is by Colorado. Lightning or for reveals provided by the River and David Logan Foundation. The John in Catherine T, Macarthur Foundation, the Georgia Logan we foundation the Ford Foundation, the highs inside its foundation, the democracy fund and the ethics excellence in journalism. Foundation reveal is the production of the centre for investigative reporting in p, r eggs, I'm Alison and remember. There is
always more to the story.
Transcript generated on 2020-09-26.