Storage Soup

Jan 28 2009   7:51PM GMT

The Internet cries foul over Carbonite Amazon reviews

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau


A story from a New York Times blog by David Pogue has ignited the tinderbox that is the Internet, and the flames are being directed at online backup service Carbonite. The conflagration is over glowing reviews of the service on Amazon by insiders at the company who did not divulge that they worked for Carbonite.

The reviews, written in December 2006, were first brought to the attention of the New York Times by a Carbonite customer identifying himself as Bruce Goldensteinberg, who has also posted screenshots of the original reviews on a Picasa blog.

Carbonite has posted an official response to the issue on its website, claiming policies were not in place at the time but have since been updated. Carbonite CEO David Friend has also responded directly to Pogue’s blog with a claim that Carbonite’s uppermost management was not aware of the bogus postings until they were brought to public attention.

This is where things really get interesting–Pogue also disputes that claim, referring to the comments section of another post about Carbonite where one of the first comments discusses the bogus reviews. David Friend posts comment #29 on that same thread, leading Pogue to argue that Carbonite was aware of the reviews at least since September and is only “cleaning up its act—now, after it’s been caught.”

I followed up with Carbonite myself about this, and received this response from a spokesperson:

In 2006 a few reviews were posted by employees who did not disclose their employment affiliation. That was a mistake and we apologize. This has long since ceased and will not happen again.

Pogue’s post also can be seen as responding to this pre-emptively:

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.

In Carbonite’s defense, I do think the level of recrimination they’re getting is a bit disproportionate to the problem of the reviews. Mr. Goldensteinberg became disgruntled when he experienced a crash, difficult restore, and delayed customer support. That’s a more important core issue for an online backup company than marketing tricks that are not unique {Pogue’s blog points out a more recent similar incident involving Belkin).

Slow restores may also be the way of online backup, especially if users are looking to restore an entire system, at this stage of its development. EMC Corp.’s Mozy was hit with similar angst among its users last year over similar problems–it, too, was forced to revise its up-front disclosures to users about restore times.

Bottom line: the Internet is all about word of mouth, but doing business oftentimes can’t be. Forget about Amazon reviews, and make sure you get an SLA from your online backup service provider in writing before you deploy the service.

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