Fake Online Reviews

Fake Online Reviews

Today the consumer often checks out reviews of our product or service on the Internet before buying.  We also know that our competitors may be placing negative reviews of us on review sites!  So it’s logical that we should write our own positive reviews so that we have a chance in this dog-eat-dog world.  Shouldn’t we?  Maybe not!  Read on.

Caught In the Act!

A best-selling author of mystery books, R.J. Ellory, was caught writing fake Amazon reviews of his and other author’s books.  He praised his work lavishly and savaged other authors’ works.  He has published an apology and is disgraced.  Other authors have also been accused of the practice, which in literary circles is called “sock-puppeting.”

Legacy Learning Systems sells guitar instruction DVDs.  They decided that a great way to increase sales was to hire people to write positive reviews of its courses in various sites that carry reviews.  It worked!  The company has $5 million in sales so far.  However last year the Federal Trade Commission assessed a fine of $250,000 to settle charges of deceptive advertising.

The FTC has issued endorsement guidelines, that provide these three principles:

  • Endorsements must be truthful and not misleading;
  • If the advertiser doesn’t have proof that the endorser’s experience represents what consumers will achieve by using the product, the ad must clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected results in the depicted circumstances; and
  • If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.

Ongoing Research

Recently a Cornell Ph.D. student used detecting fraudulent reviews as his dissertation research in computer science.  He had 400 fraudulent reviews written, and had a panel of people compare the fraudulent reviews with 400 genuine reviews.  They did no better than chance at picking out the fakes.  But his program was successful 90% of the time!  Several computer firms contacted him about his research; Google asked for his resume!  So any capability that’s in place today to detect fake reviews will only improve.  Dramatically.  And soon.

Aside from this, the major on-line companies have issued statements that they are devoting substantial resources to this problem.  Yelp even posted a somewhat vague description of its review filter.  It’s clear that the fake review that works today (or worked yesterday) may get caught tomorrow.

The Bottom Line

If you post false reviews on your own site or if you hire others to do it you’re asking for trouble.  You’re inviting legal trouble for yourself and your company, and worse still is your potential loss of credibility with your customers and business prospects.  Don’t think that you’re so smart you won’t get caught–remember that the jails are full of people who once said exactly that.  There are methods for getting honest good reviews from real customers.  There’s no need to take the risk of embarrassment and even legal sanction.  This is a short-cut that you should not take.

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