AccessiBe & the fake WordPress plug-in reviews

February 17, 2021

Topics: Accessibility, Plugins, WordPress.

On Tuesday, February 16th, I reported the presence of fake plug-in reviews on AccessiBe’s pretend-to-fix-accessibility plug-in. Now, the implication of a large number of 4 and 5 star reviews that show clear evidence of being faked is that they’ve been purchased by the plug-in author in question – but, of course, that’s not a provable statement using the information I have. However, the evidence of the fake reviews is pretty damning.

At the time I reported the reviews, AccessiBe showed 31 five-star reviews, 2 four-star reviews, and 2 one-star reviews. This can still be seen by Viewing the plug-in page in the Wayback Machine.

I reviewed the first 11 five-star reviews, and identified several key points:

  1. All eleven user accounts I viewed had a common pattern of registration and use: between zero and 3 support topics raised and 4-7 reviews over the last 18 months.
  2. Every one of these eleven accounts had at least one point of overlap with another user in that group. That is, for each plug-in or theme interacted with by one of the accounts, at least one of the other accounts also interacted with that plug-in or theme.
  3. Multiple accounts had submitted one-star reviews on another plug-in, and in a quick assessment of other one-star reviews on that plug-in, I quickly found another account that had also submitted a five-star review on AccessiBe.

None of these demonstrates absolutely that AccessiBe purchased these reviews; but this goes well beyond a coincidence.

Since reporting this issue, all 33 positive reviews on AccessiBe’s plug-in page have been removed. More are starting to appear already, of course – but given AccessiBe’s prior record of paid promotion, it’s hardly a surprise.

As a WordPress plug-in author myself, I find the investment in falsifying positive reviews irritating. What some of us work for, they are simply buying – the appearance of a good product without the labor of winning customer opinion.

I found the evidence of a hatchet job conducted systematically against another plug-in chilling, however. That has nothing to do with AccessiBe; I have little doubt that AccessiBe has hired a “marketing” company that is generating these false reviews. But what that company is doing is horrific – not just artificially inflating the importance of clients, but helping suppress other services. I sincerely hope that some labor can be put into tracking this down and putting a stop to it.

If you’re interested in seeing my spreadsheet logging this information, let me know. It’s filled with links that are now dead, since the reviews have all been removed, but I’m willing to share it privately.

Update, 23 February 2021

On 22 February, I reported an additional set of four fake reviews on the AccessiBe plug-in to the WordPress plugins team. These four reviews followed a different pattern – all four accounts were brand new accounts, and their only activity was the five-star review on AccessiBe’s plug-in. All four reviews have since been removed.

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4 Comments on “AccessiBe & the fake WordPress plug-in reviews”

  1. Thanks for stopping by, John! I’m glad to hear that Evinced sounds like a promising tool; there’s always a need for more quality tools in the market, to help suppress the junk apps like AccessiBe!

  2. Hey Joe,

    You mentioned Evinced. I did some beta testing on that application, and it shows good promise. It’s using the axe-core rules engine (as many of these tools are starting to do: Chrome Lighthouse and TPG’s ARC also use that same open-source engine), but as you note, it has an interface that is best used in the enterprise: reporting and the dashboard are quite good.

    It’s truly sad that faux-solutions like AccessiBe are out there spreading their false claims of magic remediation. I’m not really sure how we as an industry can combat that kind of exploitation, but I suspect we need to try and do something. I have some ideas…. 🙂

  3. A good web accessibility tool will be one that’s focused on the development and implementation end of the process – something that helps you identify issues, understand them, and fix them.

    So implementing testing tools like Tenon.io, Axe, or WAVE into a process is good. I’ve recently been made aware of a tool called Evinced that might be good, although it’s targeted at enterprise scale teams, as far as I can tell. I don’t know enough about it to make a recommendation, however.

    The most important element to recognize is that any tool that implements accessibility through an overlay – scripting that looks at what’s on your website and attempts to repair it – will be subject to extreme limitations in effectiveness. If the claim looks anything at all like “just add this line of code and your accessibility problems are solved”, then it’s something to be very suspicious of.

  4. Joe I was just researching ADA solutions for a client and recommended accessiBE today- thank you for posting this it saved my client and myself- time and money! Is there something similar that is legitimate? Thanks~ Jeff