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Is Amazon France censoring my bad reviews?

Amazon customers in France have reported that their feedback on certain products is not getting published, but they have not had the same experience in the UK or Germany

Amazon has been blocking bad reviews in France Pic: Jesse33 / Shutterstock

It all started in January last year, after returning an electric kettle that arrived with a big scratch on it. A beautiful, white, retro-style kettle immediately rendered near-worthless.

My comments on the defect and poor rapport qualité-prix, as the French put it, were blocked. Instead of seeing my review go live, I received an excessively polite message: “Thank you for sending us your customer feedback, but after close examination it could not be published on the web.” 

The vague reason given was that it “did not respect community rules”.

This was odd. As far as I could judge, the comment was “pertinent and useful”, respectful, written in good French, and not in any way of an insulting or sexual nature.

This was just the tip of the iceberg in what became, throughout the year, a chronic censorship problem on Amazon.fr.

Read more: Why Amazon book deliveries will soon cost more in France

When I get a not-up-to-par product, I want to express myself in that very French free way, exprimez-vous! 

Instead, the three times I tried submitting reviews, they were blocked by the gatekeeper, including when the handle fell off a supposedly high-quality, stainless steel pot after only a few uses. Kristen Duvall, an American writer based in Paris, said: “I do not think it is just a French thing. I work for clients in the US and they can get reviews removed pretty easily too. It is Amazon in general.”

However, she admits she has been a hush-hush victim of Amazon France: “They did it to me on a product that was pretty crappy –  a blow-drying brush with multiple attachments that would fly off during use. I was very polite in my review, explaining what was wrong with it.”

I have never encountered this problem with Amazon accounts in the US, Germany or the UK, and I am far from alone. A comment about it on a Facebook group for expats got an avalanche of frustrated replies.

“I have had it happen once in the US but I have posted a ton of reviews,” said one respondent, Katerina. “I do not think a single one was ever accepted in France. 

“It makes me suspicious. Reading the experience of others, it is clearly a policy and state of mind.”

The tendency has left many people perplexed and angry.

“This is why writing comments is no longer an option,” said Judith, a German living in France. “It is frustrating to see them being deleted.”

Read more: Amazon to stop using plastic pouches for deliveries in France

It also seems to go against the policies of fair play and consumer rights. So much for vive la liberté. In fact, there is a fairly widespread lack of freedom in France when it comes to speaking out on such issues.

New Jersey jazz singer Nehita Juliana, who lives in Paris, said:  “It is unfortunate because so many people depend on reviews when deciding to buy a product.

“Yes, this has happened to me too, so I have just stopped leaving reviews, whether positive or negative.”

While silencing honest and relevant comments pointing out product shortcomings, Amazon is not shy of making exceptions to its rules. ‘Promotional content’ is not accepted in the community posting standards, says the e-commerce site, but it is okay if Amazon has asked for it. That is, it entices people to provide positive (read: biased and potentially misleading) feedback on free ‘test products’.

Amazon is trying to build up business in France but I do not think smokescreens and depriving customers of the right to give feedback will help. You are not going to gain people’s confidence by minimising honest reviews.

Karen Menou, a British woman living in the Loire Valley, believes the practice is unfairly preventing people from making good purchasing choices.

“I bought a Roomba (robot cleaner) device that washes floors and I am sure in a 20m² apartment it is great. However, I am in a 280m² farmhouse so could have done a better job asking my dog to lick the floor. If I had read the gadget was totally useless on large surfaces, then I would not have parted with €200. But they rejected my review as irrelevant  – and they have done it to me three times now.”

Read more: France's love-hate relationship with Amazon

It is best to stick to French if you want even a chance of getting published.

“I find that if I am writing English reviews, they get flagged,” said another respondent, Jo. “So Google Translate to the rescue and boom! No problem.”

It should come as no surprise that my messages to Amazon France inquiring about this matter have gone unanswered. Just more stonewalling.

I am fed-up with being silenced so I am taking my business elsewhere – back into physical stores where you are able to check product quality upfront. And spare yourself the irritation of being gagged.

Some people in this article have not been fully named to protect their privacy.

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