New York Attorney General sets up sting operation to crackdown on fake online reviews

By on September 23, 2013, 2:45 PM
eric schneiderman, new york attorney general, misleading reviews, astroturfing, reputation management

Fake and misleading reviews are everywhere online, and now New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will be announcing a crackdown on a number of groups engaged in illegitimate review practices.

A report from the New York Times says that the Attorney General has come to terms with some 19 different companies, forcing them to pay fines to a tune of around $350,000 in total, on top of forcing them to stop the deceiving practices.

The illegitimate practices come in the form of fake online reviews and comments, and are generally referred to as "astroturfing." Some of the groups marked in today's announcement are in fact, solely set-up to do this kind of thing for their clients. Referred to as "reputation management" firms, a struggling business can hire these companies to "improve" public perception of their product.

So that's exactly what Schneiderman and his investigators did. The Attorney General set-up a sting operation where his agents posed as a struggling Brooklyn based Yogurt company looking to "manage" their poor online reputation. The investigation uncovered a number of details about how these sorts of practices work, including a wide-ranging global astroturfing network spread from Bangladesh and the Philippines all the way to Eastern Europe.

These practices aren't limited to hired employees making "as little as a dollar a rave," according NYT, companies were found to be bribing actual customers with gift cards to give positive reviews as well.

While its unlikely this crackdown will put all that much of a dent in the otherwise rampant practice of astroturfing, it might make business owners opt out of this kind of activity, along with at least putting it on the map with law enforcement. Yelp's senior senior litigation counsel Aaron Schur told the New York Times that the move shows that "fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement."

Images via Dilbert on fake reviews & Frank Franklin II / Associated Press

User Comments: 7

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MrAnderson said:

Sounds honorable, but waste of time. Maybe I don't know if there are any major illegal things going on in reviews... I think the online communities created by companies should develop better tools to deal with and flag "bad" reviews. It is a hard problem that will take an iterative solution to find something that will work.

It is important to also give real customers guidlines on how to make a review. Also, lots of people are willing to do these for free, but to get more quality to out shine the crap, we will need insentives. They don't need to be big, but rewards tend to work when you want positive behavior to continue.

amstech amstech, TechSpot Enthusiast, said:

That why more places are following Neweggs model of verified owners. Tigerdirect, as much as I love them cons thier reviews badly. I've put in a couple reviews for some items I bought there, some of them small, some of them big ticket and only the positive reviews showed up.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Normally you can spot the "homer" reviews pretty easily. Whenever I see overly-gushing reviews, or those that look like they were written up by a script-writer, then I skip them.

I wish Metacritic would do something about their user game reviews though. It's really hard to get an accurate assessment of a game because of all the kids who throw out nothing but ten's or zero's. There aren't probably 10 games total in the history of gaming that deserve a 10 or a 0 score. And for ridiculous stuff like, "This game is fun. Good graphics," gets a 10 score. Or, "they put in new characters instead of keeping the old ones," and that one gets a 0 score. Really obnoxious and not helpful at all to potential buyers.

JC713 JC713 said:

I am glad this is occurring. It saddens me to see bad reviews for restaurants me and my family love on services like Yelp. I see tons of reviews that dont line up and look fishy.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Know what's even cooler than fake reviews? Completely sarcastic ones on an otherwise legitimate product. Check out this nesting knife set. Very cool product, however overpriced. Reviews are awesome though.


Guest said:

It's not whether the review is poor quality, but from people hired to post fake reviews. There are lots of people who write positive or negative reviews and are paid for it but they've never even used the product. It would be great if such deception was kept out of the customer reviews online.

drjekel_mrhyde drjekel_mrhyde said:

Please go after the bots on IMDB

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