The War On Fake Reviews Ramps Up: NY Fines Companies For Fake Yelp Reviews
from the this-could-get-interesting dept
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that 19 companies had agreed to cease their practice of writing fake online reviews for businesses and to pay more than $350,000 in penalties. "Operation Clean Turf," a year-long undercover investigation into the reputation management industry, the manipulation of consumer-review websites, and the practice of astroturfing, found that companies had flooded the Internet with fake consumer reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch. In the course of the investigation, the Attorney General's office found that many of these companies used techniques to hide their identities, such as creating fake online profiles on consumer review websites and paying freelance writers from as far away as the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe for $1 to $10 per review. By producing fake reviews, these companies violated multiple state laws against false advertising and engaged in illegal and deceptive business practices.NY actually set up a whole sting operation, posing as a Yogurt shop in Brooklyn, asking SEO companies how to deal with negative reviews. Some of the companies offered to write up fake reviews, and suddenly NY had some targets to investigate. While many of the companies NY went after were SEO/digital marketing companies, some were the companies who hired astroturfers themselves (and the NY AG even calls them astroturfers). This includes US Coachways, a big charter bus company and Laser Cosmetica, a laser hair removal place in the NYC area.
Given just how frequently astroturfing seems to happen these days, it could be interesting to see if there's a bigger crackdown by consumer protection agencies, arguing that astroturfing is a form of false advertising. Still, as some are pointing out, there are many reasons for fake reviews that have nothing to do with a business paying people to write them good reviews -- and that's why fake reviews may be difficult to really stop.