Facebook employees busted leaving 5-star reviews for Portal on Amazon

By Chaim Gartenberg

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Facebook’s Portal smart displays have had an uphill battle, trying to convince people to willingly give the notoriously security-lax social media company another avenue into their homes. But it seems some people are pretty happy with their Portals: Facebook employees, who were just caught leaving five-star reviews for their own product on Amazon.

Credit for spotting this incredible coincidence goes to tech columnist Kevin Roose:

But it’s not just a coincidence. Facebook executive Andrew “Boz” Bosworth has seemly confirmed on Twitter that they’re indeed employees of the company, even though he says the company didn’t encourage this behavior.

As Roose notes in his tweet, at least three of the roughly 100 five-star reviews for the Facebook Portal all match the names of specific Facebook employees: Tim Chappell, also the name of the head of supply-chain & strategic sourcing AR / VR products; Javier Cubria, an event marketer at Facebook; and Oren Hafif, a security engineering manager at the company. (Hafif’s review actually was called out by a fellow Amazon reviewer last month, who noted that Hafif — or at least, someone with the exact same name — works at Facebook. Hafif did not respond to that comment).

All three reviews in question are listed as “Verified Purchases,” meaning that Amazon’s system has confirmed that those products were bought at Amazon. And based on Boz’s comments, it seems that these are just three Facebook employees who are really, truly happy with the Facebook Portals they bought and wanted to share the good news with the world without any corporate encouragement. But the rules at Amazon are clear: the online retailer bans “Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative’s, close friend’s, business associate’s, or employer’s) products or services,” which this would definitely fall under.

According to Facebook’s Bosworth, the reviews were “neither coordinated nor directed from the company,” noting additionally that when Portal first launched, Facebook actively encouraged employees internally to not review products it sells on Amazon, and that it would ask those employees to remove their reviews.

Facebook is a huge company with thousands of employees, and even with internal communications, it’s easy to see how a few employees just weren’t aware of a request to not post reviews. But it’s incredible how blatantly deceptive the practice can be: Chappell’s review, which claims rather disingenuously that he has “historically not been a big Facebook or other social media user,” but also “took a chance and got 4 Portals and 1 Portal plus for the family,” isn’t a great look for the company. There’s a reason why Amazon bans the policy in the first place.

Facebook has lost a lot of trust over the past year. The last thing the company needs are accusations that it’s astroturfing, too.