One Mistake: The Fall of Mediabridge
Mediabridge Products, a seller of computer and device accessories, had a bad week. Well, that might be an understatement. Last Tuesday, an Amazon customer identified as “TD” revealed via reddit that he had received two letters from Mediabridge’s attorney (the original copies of the letters have since been taken down, but we will quote relevant portions below). In essence, Mediabridge was unhappy with a review that TD left for one of the company’s wireless routers on Amazon, and it demanded that he remove the review or face a potential lawsuit.
At issue were two claims that TD made in his review: that Mediabridge had paid people to leave positive reviews of the product on Amazon, and that the company’s $50 router was really just a rebranded $20 router from China:
I’m here to warn you: A lot of these reviews are fake…It’s very likely that they are paying for reviews. It’s unethical, but think about it: They only sell these routers on Amazon, so the whole success of their company depends on Amazon reviews…
If you are wondering why this product looks identical to another $20 router sold at Amazon by a company called Tenda, that’s because it is the same router, just rebranded with a different color…
Mediabridge strongly denied both claims and, acting via its attorney, sought to persuade TD to remove his review on the grounds that it was defamatory. Under U.S. law, defamation concerns false statements that harm the reputation of an individual or organization, and provides a civil remedy for a plaintiff to receive compensation from the defendant who made such statements. In the case of Mediabridge and TD, the alleged defamation is specifically categorized as libel, as TD’s statements were made in written form.
While defamation laws can vary by jurisdiction, in general, a plaintiff seeking to prevail on a defamation claim must prove that the defendant’s statement was (1) false, (2) injurious, and (3) unprivileged. In coverage of this story at other websites and on message boards, many have also suggested that Mediabridge would have to show that TD knew his statements were false in order to prove libel, but that’s not necessarily true when dealing with private individuals or entities. It’s only when defamation concerns public officials or public figures that the higher standard of “actual malice” must be shown (see the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision New York Times Co. v. Sullivan for more), and it’s not clear how a court would label Mediabridge in this situation.
We spoke with a company spokesperson who asked to remain anonymous for now due to the barrage of offensive communication Mediabridge and its employees continue to receive. For the purposes of this article, the spokesperson will be identified as Mr. Smith.
In a telephone conversation this weekend, we asked Mr. Smith about his company’s interpretation of libel and rationale for instructing the company’s lawyer to contact TD. To narrow the elements down, we’ll state right off the bat that TD’s statements were unprivileged; “unprivileged” statements are those that fall outside of the narrow circumstances in which the law has recognized that a person’s statements, even if otherwise libelous, are more important than the protection of a plaintiff’s rights. Examples of “privileged” statements include witnesses testifying in court or during depositions, and lawmakers acting in an official capacity.
The Truth and Nothing But…
As for the statements’ veracity, Mr. Smith tells us that both are unequivocally false, although he readily admits that his firm was less concerned with the claim that the router was a rebranded version of a cheaper product from a Chinese company called Tenda than with the accusations that his company paid for favorable reviews.
To briefly address the rebrand claim, Mr. Smith told us that the router at issue (MWN-WAPR300N) is not a rebranded Tenda product: “They’re just not the same,” he said without further explanation. An FCC document has surfaced that links one of the company’s Medialink routers to Tenda, but that document references the MWN-WAPR150N, the predecessor to the WAPR300N. There is no official documentation that we have been able to locate that definitively links the WAPR300N to Tenda. (Update: as pointed out in the comments, there is also a review of the Mediabridge router at SmallNetBuilder which claims to have linked the router’s FCC ID to that of the equivalent Tenda router, but the review does not provide references. We’ve reached out to them for clarification).
Update 2: A representative from SmallNetBuilder informed us that the Medialink MWN-WAPR300N router has an FCC ID of V7TW368R, which references the Tenda W368R. We asked Mr. Smith about this and he explained that the routers are electrically identical, which is what the FCC is primarily concerned with.
However, “being electrically identical does not make them identical,” he told us, explaining that Mediabridge made significant changes to the router’s software and hardware before sending it to market. As a relatively small company, Mediabridge doesn’t have the resources to design and manufacture every product it sells. The company therefore sometimes “takes commodity products and makes them better,” which is what has caused the confusion with the Tenda router.
From a software perspective, Mr. Smith tells us that the WAPR300N has better security features, better port forwarding configuration options, and a much better range extender option, among other improvements. Hardware-wise, Mediabridge has improved the DRAM and flash over the Tenda router, which allows it to better handle the more complex software.
In short, Mr. Smith explains, to “anybody who actually bought and used both products, it would be obvious that [the Mediabridge WAPR300N and Tenda W368R] are not the same.”
Continued on page 2
16 thoughts on “One Mistake: The Fall of Mediabridge”
Followed all of this conversation back when it happened, but all I can say is that no matter if it was re-branded, modified, or original design, it has worked well for all these years.
Amazon has no legal responsibility for the veracity of its customer reviews as per section 203 of the communications decency act.
My gut tells me Mediabridge may have been a bit overzealous in dealing with “TD” but legally and ethically correct in their position. From TekRevue’s article I don’t think “TD” had proper evidence to support his allegations.
I am quite satisfied with the quality and price of the Mediabridge product I received and will continue to do business with them until I am convinced otherwise. Let the lemmings race to the sea. I will sit in the shade and watch while my subwoofer thumps away.
There are tons of 3rd party sellers on Amazon. Let Mediabridge create its own 3rd party seller and move on. This story is getting old. Though it is a warning to any seller on Amazon that Amazon values its customers and if a review violates policy, simply seek Amazon’s help to remove the review.
The real take away from this situation should be that Mediabridge responded with a hugely disproportionate legal threat with what seem like utterly unconscionable demands under threat of imminent legal action. That is what generated the back lash. Not that media bridge thought TD was wrong. Not that Mediabridge challenged the validity of TD’s claims. It was the Goliath on steroids legal demand letter that outraged people, causing them to take up figurative arms against the aggressor. Had Mediabridge merely responded, as they have done to many reviews in the comments section, with the real reasons why they have so many positive reviews and with the real facts of how the Mediabridge routers are electrically identical to Tenda routers, but modified with improvements to the firmware and memory then they would have looked good. Instead, they went for a thuggish, censorious legal smackdown.
Media bridge defended its actions in a way that appears to me to be deliberately misleading based on their narrow slicing of terms. They touted that they never sued TD – true, but that is almost a distinction without a difference given that their demand letter wrote of “coming litigation,” which could only be avoided by the utter capitulation by TD to Media bridge by agreeing deleting his review, and to never buy or comment about any Mediabridge product, ever. Secondly, Mediabridge made much of claiming that TD’s accusation that the Mediabridge product was identical to the Tenda was false. Yet Mediabridge admits that the routers are identical electrically. So, while they may be different in firmware and memory, acting outraged over the claim that the routers were identical was, IMO, deliberately misleading given that, AFIK, they didn’t bother to mention that the routers were, in fact, electrically identical in their threat letter, or in their denials to the media, only later admitting it when faced with proof in the form of FCC letters, while still maintaining that the word “identical” was defamatory.
TD may have been wrong in his conclusion about reviews being fake or he may be right. I don’t know. However many media outlets and commentators have been too quick to claim TD is wrong. He well may be, but to actually be sure he’s wrong is a different matter entirely. I’m pretty sure there is no public proof that all the 5 star reviews were legit, and here is why: We certainly know a lot of the subsequent 1 star reviews are “fake”, so we know that fake reviews are a real thing, and easy for anyone to post. Proving that not a single one the 5 star reviews are fake would require investigating each and every one of the 5 star reviews, interviewing the reviewer’s, perhaps even depositions of all 1500 of them, and perhaps even subpenaing Mediabridge’s computers and emails. I don’t claim any of the reviews were fake, but I can say that proving a negative is very hard, so media outlets can only legitimately say that TD’s allegations are unproven, they cannot know they are actually false since that would require proving a negative for all of the individual 5 star reviews..
In the end I’d say one side was clearly in the wrong, and, IMO, attempting to be misleading its responses about whether they filed suit or just promised to do so, and whether the the routers were electrically identical or completely identical.
The above post is my strictly opinion based on the published accounts I’ve read on the internet.
If Mediabridge has this attitude with their Amazon contract, what chance does the customer have?
They can whine and make excuses all day long but they violated their Amazon contact.
2) MediaBridge could have addressed concerns on their Amazon page, not resorting to threatening letter from lawyer. I’ve seen many other companies respond to unsatisfactory reviews on Amazon through the reply function. It works. They could even detail their so-called “improvement”s in a FAQ in the description section. They went nuclear and they are suffering radiation poisoning from the fallout and it is their own fault.
3) From the tone of YOUR article you are also very scared of their lawyers. ;) I wouldn’t have been as kind. But thank you for the thorough investigation.
Although the conclusion of our article was that they were ultimately responsible for their own actions and consequences, I do find it interesting that many are upset that we haven’t vilified the entire company completely. It’s to the point where *we* have started receiving hate emails, with one particularly clever fellow suggesting that this entire site was set up by “Mr. Smith” as part of a campaign to clear his name, and others demanding to know how much we were paid to promote the company. That check must have been lost in the mail…
Full disclosure: I’ve bought this router and cables from Mediabridge, and I’ve been happy with the purchases.
1) Buyer outright posted a bogus review with nothing to back it up (even if the router is the same as Tenda, the fact of the matter is he claimed the reviews were bought.) He didn’t actually even review the router itself.
2) Reddit, home of “People who lie on Restaurant Reviews” and “People who Figured Out Who the Marathon Bomber is” started posting bad reviews… on the TENDA Router! 52 1-star reviews were left on the Tenda Router because of the reddit mob mentality.
3) Seller overreacted. You have the #3 selling router on Amazon and this guy’s review has been up since September.
I’m sad to see this happen to a local company but there had to be a better way. Doesn’t Amazon offer ANY mediation for this in cases of outright libel?
The fact of the matter is this, thinking from a logistical standpoint: Mediabridge had one of the top-selling routers on Amazon. If Mediabridge threatened so many other people who gave 1-star reviews or bullied them, they would be crawling out of the woodwork to get a taste of the action. They’re not. This feels like an isolated incident specifically because there were libelous statements that the company was trying to defend itself from, especially since the review was listed as “Most Helpful”.
Put it to you this way: Let’s say someone posted a a review that a toaster could give you the flu. A preposterous statement, I know, but stay with me.
So this preposterous statement with no evidence to back it up is listed as the most helpful review on Amazon and it hurts their toaster business.
Is there recourse with Amazon? If not, what can you do? It’s not someone is WRONG on the internet, someone is flat out LYING on the internet and hurting your livelihood.
And if the routers were crappy, there would have been a lot more legitimate 1-star reviews. There aren’t. Even the Tenda product that this was being compared to had about 3.5 stars on Amazon with a majority of the complaints being bad customer service. Then Reddit came in and mistakenly trashed their product with bogus reviews (see 52 bad reviews all dated 5/6/14) so if I was Tenda, I would be pretty pissed off right now.
I think Mediabridge reacted badly but I wanted to see what kind of mediation Amazon offers to reviews like this. If there’s no recourse, I would have gotten a better lawyer and planned this out very carefully. I would have even had the lawyer discuss with Amazon first about the review. If Mediabridge had nothing to hide regarding their reviews they could have negotiated with Amazon first.
Long story short: There are no winners here. The redditor and his initial review were in the wrong. Period. He posted potentially libelous statements with nothing to back it up and it harmed Mediabridge’s business. Mediabridge went about this the wrong way, but they are a small business up against an jerk on the internet and Jeff freaking Bezos.
As for the 2009 “warning”, it was not a warning, it was an accusation. Someone claimed he submitted documentation to Amazon and then posted about it. You can find the initial thread if you google mediabridge HDMI reviews fake.
Now Mediabridge went about this the wrong way they sent a threatening letter to the buyer using using information from the sale to threaten him into removing the comment, now this was a big no no and I think a lot of people attacked Mediabridge because of this and not so much because of the comments written. Nobody likes to see another person get bullied by a corporation and the reddit users took it a bit too far. Amazon on the other hand had every right to ban Mediabridge since in it’s terms of service they specifically state that a seller cannot ask a buyer to remove negative feedback, had they contacted Amazon and let them know the situation and then reached out to the buyer through Amazon there may have been a better solution to this but they took it to all out war and the buyer responded and an army attacked Mediabridge. I really don’t think Amazon took it that lightly removing them as a seller since if the router was that popular then Amazon would lose sales in the process as well so they must have had a good reason for this.
As much I would like to sit here and say the buyer is a bad guy for what he did essentially speaking he stated his opinion the seller threatened him and got what they deserved, did they both commit a wrong in this? Yes, but the seller ultimately should have dealt with this in a better manner than sending a cease and desist letter. Amazon acted in the best manner for them since they don’t want people to feel like they can’t post honest reviews on their site ultimately they still want to protect their reputation as well. Now, I saw the comments Mediabridge made on Facebook and I have to say that I was less than pleased with how they worded that message, they seem to take this at a wrong turn no matter what they do and ultimately the backlash is more from their actions than the actual review written.
However: the 2009 thing was not a review on a product page, it was one person who was raising a fuss in Amazon’s forums and claimed he sent proof to Amazon. Nothing came of it that we know of. You couldn’t find this thread unless you knew how to look for it. The person who got the letter had the Most Helpful review on one of their best selling products with a high profit margin. There’s the difference.
someone is WRONG on the internet, someone is flat out LYING on the
internet and hurting your livelihood.”
I think it is worth addressing this – the original reviewer was making unsubstantiated claims. This does not necessarily mean he was lying. He stated that it was a re-branded Tenda router. This seems true to me based on the FCC id of the MWN-WAPR300N. Mediabridge can add their own control panel and increase the memory/storage space on the router all they want, it is still the same wireless hardware, most likely running on the same operating system with the same drivers. He stated, probably in stronger language than he should have, that Mediabridge was buying Amazon reviews. I don’t claim to know what is going on there, but it is difficult for me to believe that a seller of arguably mediocre routers has the highest electronics seller rating on Amazon without some kind of extenuating circumstances.
I know from firsthand experience, the Mediabridge routers are essentially non-functional. Like many others, I had the unfortunate pleasure of discovering this fifty bucks later. Unless you purchased your router a few days ago and it’s still alive (I’d give it a week or two TOPS), I’m SHOCKED that you are happy with your purchases, Matt F. Unless you’re an employee. Nice job trying to discredit Reddit (you are FULL of logical fallacies). Regardless, that’s not going to back up your argument (believing so would be another logical fallacy).
Also your third point is a lame attempt to distract the audience. You don’t sound any less biased.
You were saying something about a logical fallacy?
As an aside, I believe if we are going to treat Internet communications fairly, they must be held to same level of high standards that printed communications are. If you are going to slander someone in today’s world, it is just as harmful in digital form as it is on paper.
Being a lemming is NEVER “righteous”, it’s acting without thinking, by definition.
But I have never seen any situation improved by a “sue/shoot first” approach, whether is one of the mafiAA’s (RIAA, MPAA) or some small mail-order house that no one had ever heard of… until, that is, they make a similar bone-headed move of going from 1 to 11 in a blink, and soon learn what the term “Streisand Effect” means. It was an honest mistake in the 90’s, a slightly silly one in the First Decade, but now that the Web is of drinking age it’s simply inexcusable. Whatever a law suit costs, how much could they have saved in aggravation (not to mention real world MONEY) by reaching out to the customer and finding a way to make good? Even if the end result was the same, the company could have saved face by showing the reviewer was a troll that could never have been satisfied with any offer to make good on whatever shortcomings, real or perceived, that the reviewer had of their product.
In other words, don’t shoot unless they have a real gun pointed at you… not a bag of Skittles™.
I wish I could have coaxed more out of the Mediabridge spokesperson on this. Without putting words in his mouth, I would imagine that if the SmallNetBuilder report is accurate, that the company’s position is that their unique software/setup/utilities makes the Medialink router a “separate product,” whereas many consumers might think of “rebrand” as just a different exterior label.
It’s a shame because this was truly an insignificant point in all of this, but the denial on this point, especially without further explanation, casts shadows of doubt over the whole situation.
Thanks for noticing that omission, Jason!