ONLINE reviews have become the new arena for cash-for-comment, and ordinary Australians are pushing shock jocks aside.
For $5 a piece, Luke, 18, from Melbourne, who declined to disclose his surname, will write a detailed review of your iPhone or iPad app on the Australian iTunes store. He offers the same deal for song reviews, which can be "honest or as requested by you".
"I ask them what rating they are hoping to achieve, and if they say they want four stars I'll try to give them four stars. Mainly just focusing on the positive content helps a bit," said Luke, who estimates he has written 30-40 reviews including for large Australian "online betting applications".
"There is a bit of an ethical issue there; I won't lie," he said.
Reviews of apps, books, films, hotels and restaurants increasingly drive consumer decisions, but as many as a third of them have been estimated to be fake.
Nielsen research suggests 71 per cent of Australians look at web reviews from members of the public - on sites such as Google Local, Urban Spoon, Yelp and TripAdvisor - before buying.
This has meant online reviews have become an industry, with fake appraisals openly bought on sites like Fiverr and Freelancer.
Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, estimated in The New York Times that one-third of all consumer reviews on the web were fake. Mr Liu's research in 2008 showed that 60 per cent of reviews on Amazon awarded the product five stars while a further 20 per cent were four stars.
Reharn Morris, from Devonport in Tasmania, has been paid to write reviews of products such as Xbox controllers and e-books through Freelancer.com. "All reviews are to be written as if you are a customer; they are to be positive and you really never even see the product," Mr Morris said. "You are given all the info. It is actually starting to test my ethics, as I like to tell the truth."
Gartner, a global analyst firm specialising in technology, released a report this month claiming between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of all social media ratings and reviews would be paid for by companies by 2014.
Economists at the University of California, Berkeley looked at ratings of 300 restaurants in San Francisco. They wrote in the September issue of Economic Journal that when a restaurant's rating on Yelp improved by just half a star, the likelihood of its 7pm bookings selling out went up from 30 per cent to 49 per cent.