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."