Skin Care Company, Sunday Riley, Somehow Gets No Consequences In Fake Reviews FTC Settlement

from the none-off-their-back dept

We've long discussed the problem that is astroturfing and companies that abuse website reviews sections by inputting fake positive reviews for their own products. These fake reviews break the ecosystem of sites like Yelp and many others, where a big part of the draw to the sites are the communities that provide helpful, honest reviews. It's also been the case, however, that such fake review campaigns have occasionally come with fines or lawsuits with limited clarity on precisely what laws were being broken.

Still, the FTC is a thing and it would seem to be in that organization's purview to mete out some kind of punishment for the truly bad actors out there. In the case of skincare company Sunday Riley, however, it seems that FTC settlements for truly egregious fake review campaigns are entirely without teeth.

Let's start with the scheme itself. According to the FTC, for two years, spearheaded by founder Sunday Riley herself, employees and interns were tasked with both voting down real negative reviews on Sephora.com, as well as setting up fake accounts for Sephora and inputting fake positive reviews. This, again, was directly communicated by Riley herself.

The FTC shared snippets of multiple emails sent by the CEO. In these emails, Riley urged her employees to always use a "virtual private network", or VPN, before writing fake reviews so they aren't traced back to the company.

"If you see a negative review -- DISLIKE it," Riley said in one of her emails to employees. "After enough dislikes, it is removed. This directly translates to sales!!"

Most recently in April 2018, interns of the company were also asked to make fake Sephora accounts and write reviews of Sunday Riley skincare products.

So, yeah, really blatant, really fake, and really shady. This was a coordinated attempt to falsely manipulate the review system of Sephora for the purposes of fooling the public into buying more product. That certainly feels like about as blatant a case requiring FTC involvement as the fake review subject is going to get.

And the FTC did get involved. It pushed Sunday Riley into settling with the agency. And boy, what a settlement it was.

As part of the settlement, Sunday Riley agreed not to write fake reviews. The company did not admit wrongdoing or receive any form of punishment.  FTC commissioners Chopra and Slaughter disagreed with the settlement, arguing that the company should have paid a higher price.

"Going forward, the FTC should seek monetary consequences for fake review fraud, even if the exact level of ill-gotten gains is difficult to measure," Chopra and Slaughter said in their letter.

"Today's proposed settlement includes no redress, no disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, no notice to consumers, and no admission of wrongdoing. Sunday Riley and its CEO have clearly broken the law, and the Commission has ordered that they not break the law again."

Yeah, that's basically right. The FTC settled with Sunday Riley by simply asking that they please not break the law and act so shitty again. Meanwhile, the company has admitted no wrong doing, paid no fine, or suffered any other consequence. Honestly, what the point of this FTC settlement is, is beyond me. Are we to reach settlements with thieves that consist of a request that they not steal any longer?

Filed Under: fake reviews, ftc, punishment
Companies: sunday riley


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 6:45pm

    '... and let that be a lesson to you.'

    As part of the settlement, Sunday Riley agreed not to write fake reviews. The company did not admit wrongdoing or receive any form of punishment.

    Well, with a punishment like that I'm sure they and other companies watching will be super careful not to do the exact same thing again, lest they face a sternly worded letter telling them to really knock it off and stop doing that.

    Bang up job protecting the public there FTC. With a 'settlement' like that showing how 'serious' the FTC considers leaving fraudulent reviews and gaming the system to get rid of legitimate ones the agency has all but ensured that such a practice will ramp up, because if there's no penalty even for activity that blatant then it's clear that there's no penalty for such actions at all, as the FTC simply does not care.

    Honestly, what the point of this FTC settlement is, is beyond me.

    Clearing the workload so they can go home early would be my guess, because it sure as hell wasn't punishing a company for poisoning the trust of review systems for personal gain.

    Are we to reach settlements with thieves that consist of a request that they not steal any longer?

    Only if they're rich enough, for those that don't reach that mark there's still penalties and repercussions.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2019 @ 6:31am

      Re: '... and let that be a lesson to you.'

      "...with a punishment like that I'm sure they and other companies watching will be super careful ..."

      And this may generalize to other business sectors under "regulation" by the FTC. Fear the wrath, FEAR THE WRATH, I say to potential abusers of Net Neutrality, like all those big ISPs.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 7:46pm

    Fake Reviews? That's what you want to write about? Fake Reviews? Practically every comment on this site is a Fake Review! Fake names, fake profiles, women posing as men, straights posing as gays, white people posting as black, lesbians posing as men, this is the very definition of FAKE NEWS and FAKE COMMENTS.

    Can you imagine how fantastic the next election is going to be? WOW! The left is now EXPOSED as the LIARS and FRAUDS that they are, and when Americans go VOTE, the country is going to be on the RIGHT PATH! RIGHT! RIGHT!

    God, aren't you guys tired of peddling your bullshit on this site? Everyone knows that this is the propaganda on Steroids with fake idiots running their mouth about COMPLETE BULLSHIT!

    Not like me. I'm a statesman. Like Trump.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 8:37pm

      If you hate this site so much, leave it. I’m sure Stormfront would love to have you, Shiva.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 8:41pm

        Re:

        Why would they, people keep falling for their bait.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:10pm

        Re:

        (And of course the follow-up sentence only came to me after hitting 'Submit'...)

        ... not to mention if they moved to that cesspit they'd just be one more bigoted loser in a pool of them, just one more internet 'tough guy' throwing out garbage on a platform already filled with it with more piling on every second, as opposed to here where as one of the few garbage throwers they get much more attention and stick out much more compared to those around them.

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

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:20pm

      Re:

      I'm a statesman. Like Trump.

      Exactly. If El Cheetos can lie at a press conference, why can't Corporations lie whenever they want? Make America Racist Again!

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:27pm

        Re: Re:

        Did I tell you today how much I love you? Really, I do. I used to think I hated you leftist assholes, but now I have come to see the light. I love you guys, every day, sincerely, from the bottom of my political heart.

        Don't you see what you have done? You CREATED Trump! Without your stupid name calling bullshit and irrational unfounded rhetoric that does not stand up to even mild scrutiny, Trump would not be attractive, at all. Who cares about Trump? I don't. But I care about America! And if it takes Trump to call out your leftist socialist communist bullshit for what it is, then I love Trump! And I love you!

        I love America, where at least I know I'm FREE! And I'm proud to stand up, next to (not you but others) and defend her from the likes of THEE!

        YOU CREATED TRUMP! YOU PROMOTE HIM STILL! YAY!

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

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:38pm

          Who cares about Trump? I don't.

          LOLwut.

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

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:44pm

            Re:

            Did you flunk Reading Comprehension? Very few people care about Trump. We only care about what he DOES to expose IDIOTS like YOU!

            YOU ARE TRUMP, MR. Smith! Trump is YOU! TRUMP LOVE COMES FROM YOU!

            Everyday!

            Try it - if you were quiet, no one would talk about Trump. Try it. I care you.

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

            • icon
              Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:51pm

              Very few people care about Trump. We only care about what he DOES to expose IDIOTS like YOU!

              Says a lot about you that you revel in the pain and misery and suffering of those you deem the Repugnant Cultural Others.

              None of what that says is good.

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

              • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 11:23pm

                Re:

                Tell the truth, Stephen (for once): that phrase "Repugnant Cultural Others" is just you masturbating ideologically in public and humiliating yourself. Did you get that phrase from Michelle (the Gorilla in high heels and lipstick) Obama? You didn't make it up yourself, did you? You're so scripted and insincere it's pathetic.

                Who cares what you think is good. You should be deported after you are tarred feathered and put in stocks for a week while people throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at your face.

                Well maybe not literally. But you get my point. "Cultural Others"? What stupid horseshit phrase is this, anyway?

                Americans love other cultures. You're the BIGOT!

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

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:51pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          [Asserts facts not in evidence]

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

        • icon
          bhull242 (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 10:24am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Who cares about Trump? I don't.

          I love Trump!

          These two claims are inconsistent.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 9:50pm

      Re:

      Fake Reviews? That's what you want to write about? Fake Reviews? Practically every comment on this site is a Fake Review! Fake names, fake profiles, women posing as men, straights posing as gays, white people posting as black, lesbians posing as men, this is the very definition of FAKE NEWS and FAKE COMMENTS.

      But enough about yourself.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 11:05pm

        Re: Re:

        Really? Enough about me? Naw, there is a lot more that I have to share.

        For example, what do you think of this idea: A Trump Rally where EVERYONE COMES ARMED! Want to come? It would be like a game, a sporting event. Imagine it - 50,000 people in an Arena, and there is Trump, RIGHT THERE, and you have a GUN!

        Of course, if you pointed it anywhere in the direction of Trump, you would be dead, fast. You would be shot from every direction. And Trump could laugh! That would be good, right? He rolls his eyes, shakes the big fingers and says "Gotcha! No more shit from you, ever again".

        We could call it "Trump Sports Mania!" and broadcast it all over the world. We would invite everyone, like a quick draw contest.

        The truth, of course, is all you pale faced anti-fa basement dwelling pussies would never come. You can't handle a gun, you don't have any convictions, and you have no cause that you would lay down your life for. You're whimpering babies complaining about how the adults are running the most successful country in the history of the world, and you are financed by the most corrupt international cartel of globalists ever assembled.

        Too bad, don't you think? I think the rating would be GREAT! I would go, for sure, one gun in each pocket, and two in my socks.

        But enough about me.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 12:49am

          Re: Re: Re:

          And when someone trips over their own foot, triggering a widespread panic, the world will see what happens when idiots like you turn on each other in "self defense".

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 11:11pm

        Re: Re:

        Do you really think I am fake? Do I sound fake? Do I use a fake name? Do I have a fake profile? Do I sound insincere? Do I sometimes say I am black, or gay, or some other bullshit and then change my gender or orientation or race later?

        I am SINCERE! I am WITHOUT WAX! (look it up)

        And I love America! Unlike You!

        Do you really think it is possible to FAKE commentary like mine? Of course not, any more than Trump is fake. He's not fake, I'm not fake, we are who we are, and we LOVE IT! LALALALA!

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Oct 2019 @ 11:50pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Who the hell said they were black, then didnt? And where? Come on blue, you can do better than this, you due process hating bitch!

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2019 @ 4:33am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I think a better question would be who, as a long-time poster (10,000+ posts) has NOT posed as someone else? All of them have. PaulT and Wendy write with the same voice. Mike and Stephen T. Stone whine in the same baby manner. AND, every other anonymous coward sounds like either Wendy the Lesbian Seperatist, Mike/Stephen the anally retentive and feces centered crybaby, or some international gay/trans/globalist asshole with a legal degree.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2019 @ 7:32pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Come on blue, you can do better than this".

            Gosh you sound like MM.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2019 @ 11:30pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Are you closeted Texan today or an effeminate Masshole today bro?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2019 @ 8:16am

      Re:

      Hello, Hamilton. How's Harder coping with the sting from his Shiva loss? He really done fucked up, didn't he?

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

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 10:22am

      Re:

      I wouldn’t exactly call a comment on a news blog a “review”, fake or otherwise. Nor would I consider a comment “news”, fake or otherwise.

      As for the “fake names” accusation, they’re called “pseudonyms”, and there’s nothing wrong or deceitful about them. And neither fake names nor fake profiles make the comments themselves “fake comments”.

      And I have no idea where you got the idea of “women posing as men, straights posing as gays, white people posting as black, lesbians posing as men”. Do you have any examples or evidence backing up that assertion?

      The only “fake comments” I’ve seen on this site have come from trolls like you.

      God, aren't you guys tired of peddling your bullshit on this site?

      Aren’t you?

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Oct 2019 @ 7:44am

    And this has nothing to do with using metrics about wins to get a budget & for ever nonwinner we take some away.

    Imagine if they just funded them to the levels needed to ensure they could do their job against all companies not just revenge porn assholes like Craig.

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

  • icon
    Beefcake (profile), 26 Oct 2019 @ 8:06am

    In unrelated news

    Ajit Pai’s skin looks great.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2019 @ 1:56pm

    On the plus side, more people are aware of Sunday Riley and it's shitty snakeoil slash carcinogenic skin cancer-causing slime masquerading as moisturizer.

    So there's that.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Oct 2019 @ 2:13pm

      Their product might not be toxic, but their reputation sure is

      On the plus side, more people are aware of Sunday Riley and it's shitty snakeoil slash carcinogenic skin cancer-causing slime masquerading as moisturizer.

      This being the first time I'd ever heard of the company I wouldn't go that far as I have no idea what it does or does not do, but the actions of the CEO and those under them speak louder than words that their company/product absolutely cannot be trusted and should be avoided at all costs, as if they believed their products could stand on their own merits they wouldn't have spent so much time and effort to game the reviews and give people a false impression of said products.

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

  • icon
    Mike Gale (profile), 27 Oct 2019 @ 6:45pm

    What to do about it

    This is a widespread problem, not just Sephora, not just Sunday Riley. (At least one comment here may be interference!)

    Rather than get outraged at the specific people involved what can we do. Some ideas:

    • Be aware that the "open" Internet is intrinsically untrustworthy, and be on alert.
    • Help those you care about to understand this too.
    • If you're involved in a site with identified fraudulent reviews, maybe promote and emphasize falsely downgraded reviews, mark the malevolent accounts clearly as such and make their fake reviews undeletable and clearly shown as what they are.
    • Identify those who do and have done this, make sure that their behaviour is known to those you care about.
    • Blow the whistle on such activity and do your best to make sure that whistle blowing works well, when genuine.
    • Don't get cross eyed with outrage.
    • If somebody you know made a good review for a product that uses this sort of fraud, warn them that they may be unfairly tarred with the same brush if they don't delete it.

    Well that a start.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 7:53pm

      Re: What to do about it

      Rather than get outraged at the specific people involved what can we do.

      Better idea: Get outraged at the companies attempting to game the review system in order to give people a dishonest impression of their products and take steps to minimize/counter the damage they can do.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2019 @ 6:12am

    This is what you get when you support 'business friendly' politicians instead of those who protect the public interest first.

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

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 8:31am

    I see the problem

    They forgot to say "pretty please".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 10:53am

    Let them have their Fake Reviews, just impose Statutory Damages

    So fake reviews are basically manipulating the 'IP' of the company, now when plebes violate the 'IP' of corporations, there are statutory damages (since real damages are hard to show when they don't exist...).

    So the FTC should impose Statutory Damages on each occurrence (just as IP lawyers try to use for every use of a specific thing) in the amount of $150,000 (if saving a song is worth this much, then saving a business should be worth more, and if a company is tilting the fiend in their favor, they are damaging multiple other businesses).

    Not like corporations will ever be held accountable to the level the public is, but it's what should happen in a fair and just system (which neither we nor any other developed world have perfected yet).

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


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