Cosmetic Surgery Company 'Fesses Up To Widespread Campaign Of Fake Reviews; Pays Fine

from the some-questions-though... dept

The NY Times has an article about how LifeStyle Lift, a company that does cosmetic surgery (facelifts) has reached a settlement with NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over posting fake reviews on its site. It wasn't just a case of some "rogue" employees posting some fake positive reviews, either. The company apparently sent out emails to employees telling them to "devote the day to doing more postings on the Web as a satisfied client." It also created its own fake facelift review websites that (of course) reflected positively on themselves. The company has apologized and agreed to pay $300,000.

Now, it's clear that the company was doing a bad thing here, but there are some questions raised about this. Eric Goldman, who also notes that the company previously had sued a review site that had many negative reviews for trademark infringement (a clear misuse of trademark law to stifle free speech), points out that it's unclear what law was actually broken here. Andrew Cuomo claims that what the company did was illegal, but doesn't point to any specific law that says so. We've seen this before from Cuomo, who has publicly accused companies of breaking the law, without ever naming the law in question.

That said, it's clear in this case that LifeStyle Lift was a bad actor. The question is how to deal with it. Goldman suggests that review sites and consumers should deal with this themselves:
Ultimately, I believe the burden should largely rest on review websites to provide a forum that is sufficiently game-resistant that consumers can trust the information on the website.... In my opinion, the only real "solution" to fake consumer reviews is to teach consumers proper techniques for searching for information and evaluating the credibility of the information they consume. This is one of those crucial life-coping skills that everyone needs to learn at an early age, right up there with the three Rs and how to manage money. Education is the only scalable answer to the problems of information credibility in our complex information society.
For the most part, I agree... though I do wonder if there's potential to make a claim that the practices violate truth in advertising type laws or other consumer protection laws on deceptive practices. Of course, I would assume that it would then be an issue for the FTC, rather than the NY Atotorney General's office.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 7:48am

    False advertising?

    Larceny by false promise?

    Outright fraud?

    Advertising itself would be an FTC issue, but the underlying fraud is a state case all the way. The "post reviews" email is pretty much the smoking gun required to prove fraudulent intent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    slacker525600 (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 8:09am

    how are consumers supposed to evaluate credibility?

    "In my opinion, the only real "solution" to fake consumer reviews is to teach consumers proper techniques for searching for information and evaluating the credibility of the information they consume"

    This isn't one of the cases where somebody let an automated tool post positive reviews repeatedly. Without verification of people's identities it is impossible to distinguish between a bad actor on a review site and a legitimately happy customer. If people are sitting down and writing reviews how can you differentiate between claims without evidence which would undoubtedly be personal.

    You can claim that the review sites could be filtering IP addresses, but as it has been pointed out here and elsewhere that is not an entirely game resistant method. If people are spending time to promote themselves on a forum and aren't mass copy and pasting reviews, I dont see a clear way to differentiate. A proverbial pissing contest between two sides of an argument could arise and inevitably no system will be perfect.

    Not to mention, through clever wordplay the reviews could be entirely positive and be phrased from the doctors point of view, despite being representing a client's perspective. Examples a doctor could say without lying (or being clever) at all... "my experiences at xyz have been entirely positive", "I was very happy with the outcome of the surgery", "I thought the entire procedure was painless."

    I don't know. I feel like this issue is a lot more difficult than Goldman claims.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 8:11am

    Were they comments or actually reviews?

    On another note, I was told several times that my ideas were better seen on a higher level, like "Ballmer" level. And as such I will continue.

    But they decided to not keep me. Walked me to the car. Too bad.

    Considering I've been gone for a few years now, not under any NDA and definitely not under any Non Compete enforceable by the cowards of King County, WA, I can file Patents and the like, I suppose I will continue sharing to the world, as I am, well now, "open source".

    So if I'm pissing someone off, well, too bad your strategy sucks. As the Fake Steve Ballmer loudly proclames, "You'll listen to me"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    pegr, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 8:13am

    Gee, I don't know...


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 8:39am

    FRAUD! Glad he did something worth something after all the other BS things he does. If it isn't against the law, it should be, sounds like consumer fraud to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 9:17am

    This sort of thing is called .....

    AstroTurfing ..... false grass roots and all

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 9:42am

    Re: Gee, I don't know...

    I think Consumer Fraud would be the particular statute. Tried looking it up at the following site, but it seems to be kinda obsessed with A. The Internet, and B. Identity Theft, which is odd, since it's a federal website (Though the posting I was looking at is over 2 years old).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 11:53am

    Other Vendors

    They should investigate all the registry cleaning apps that create there own review sites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    chenyee, Mar 4th, 2010 @ 6:19pm

    Company reviews

    i do trust it! and then ,i find another company review ,there are all the us companies in that

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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