Fake Reviews – Everyone is doing it, so it must be legal

I absolutely loved this thread at blackhatworld. The original poster asked:

Hi,

Does anybody know if it is illegal to sell fake online reviews?

I have heard about companies getting fined for posting / buying fake reviews, but can the seller actually get in trouble? If so then why does Fiverr allow you to post review gigs, I mean there is a whole section dedicated to them!

If it is illegal what I have in mind is putting in my T&C’s that all the reviews we post will be taken from other review sites for example:

If you have reviews on Amazon we will copy these and put them onto Review Centre.

Any advice would be appreciated!

A smattering of the answers that make it sound a bit more like dumbhatworld:

  • If you don’t say anything negative abut some one or some company it is probably legal. No one can punish you for good review even if it is fake
  • It’s not really illegal since there are so many people doing it..
  • Fake Review Not Problem But Need Different Different IP For Work
  • Slander is illegal so if you’re leaving negative feedback and lying in the process then yes it’s immoral and illegal. If, however, someone offers you a product in exchange for a review (much like what happens in the sales threads on here) then there’s nothing wrong with that, provided the review is honest and fair.

The answers went from dumb to dumber at least until one  poster finally posted a reasoned response based on some real (very painful) experience that I have covered previously:

I owned Glowing Reviews, which was sued by Edmunds last year for posting “fake reviews”, so I can answer with first hand info. (Just google ‘glowing reviews edmunds’)

Each country will have different laws, so I’ll answer with the US version. You need to read the FTC guidelines for testimonials(reviews) in advertising:
http://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/fil…mentguides.pdf

After consulting with attorneys, they believed that as long as a review could be tracked back to an individual it was ok. So, for example, if you collected reviews via comment card, phone call, and email and had a way to get back in touch with the customer, it would be ok to post.

At the same time, each site that allows you to post reviews (such as Amazon in your case or Edmunds in mine) has TOS that you’re supposed to follow. At every site you’ll find they require that the person posting the review is the actual person who experienced the service. So if you post on behalf of someone else, you’ll be violating the TOS.

I expected if any site ever got angry about me posting REAL reviews under my accounts, I’d get a C&D letter. I was wrong and got sued.

Someone else in this thread mentioned that it’s ok because everyone else does it. Well, good luck with that strategy. Lots of people do this, but do you always want to live wondering when you get the call from Wall Street Journal letting you know you were sued and what your comment is?

I can give more examples of legal issues causing headaches (twitter bots a couple of years ago, Yelp suing fake review posters, etc), but suffice it to say it’s probably better to find a better way to get your reviews up.

One more thing… If you incent the reviews in any way (Ie – leave a review on Amazon and you’ll get 25% off your next order), according to the FTC PDF I linked, they need to say that they are a paid endorser in their review. I’d expect to get sued less often by the FTC for “forgetting this” or doing it on a small scale, but if they decide to make an example of someone look out…

The bottom line? Fake reviews are illegal plain and simple. The rewards of fake reviews are positive. The risks on the other hand, while infrequent, are very high.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Fake Reviews - Everyone is doing it, so it must be legal by

28 thoughts on “Fake Reviews – Everyone is doing it, so it must be legal”

  1. If only these people spent half as much time thinking about how to ask their customers for reviews and make it easy to say yes, and how to deserve good reviews in the first place…

    Some people think so hard to avoid thinking, and work hard to avoid work.

  2. I encourage my customers to leave recommendations on my LinkedIn profile. But this is for the benefit of future prospects, not for Google, as I doubt they even consider those reviews. And even though they are 100% legit, if I were to post them as reviews on Google, then they would be considered fake. Bottom line, I just don’t worry about Google reviews. Better to worry about keeping clients happy than Google.

  3. I really appreciate when a customer takes it upon themselves to review my company. I like to think, that my past customers comments are like having online references. I honestly feel it allows consumers to know that you are vetted organization.

  4. Great topic you choose. Fake reviews not benificial for us. Because its just your team member post. But yes when people visit and see so much review on your topic they like it. So I say its good for your business. One thing you will remember review must be unique.

  5. As Google reviews are so valuable for local business, the five stars and all that….it’s amazing that people spend all their time trying to cheat. I don’t know a single firm that couldn’t get lots of reviews if they just asked and made it simple! There’s a really good article about this on Mike’s website I could refer to if I remembered where it was but basically everyone can create a simple review getting system that gets them. And with so many Google+ accounts and integration across YouTube and Gmail it is probably easier than ever. The fact is that a review that is positive is a customer likely to refer and recommend and therefore it’s vital to work on this aspect of the business.

  6. Well that’s why France has taken a clear stance on this matter: If you’re publisher you’re then responsible for reviews hosted on your website and should proof that every reviewer has bought the product/service.. I know you’re aware of this but we all know that reviews will regulate web searcher behaviour and for this matter it’s a huge impact that shouldn’t be denied.

  7. @Brian
    I am not sure why you would choose only one site for your recommendations. It seems to me that you would want to encourage your clients to go where they are comfortable. If they love G+ then great, if they love Yelp, great.

    But why not give them the choice?

  8. @Mohammed

    Certainly at this point in the US, the scales are not tipped in favor of the owner knowing that the reviews are in fact real.

    There are barriers to getting at the information as to who posted and there are very few rules that the companies taking reviews have to follow.

    France has a much more social attitude towards fairness. In the US there is a trend towards validating reviews via a purchase (Expedia, OpenMenu) and it is conceivable that Google & Yelp could validate by location. But it is still a long ways to fairness and quality.

  9. I’m curious about your thoughts on the overall “state of reviews” – That is, such things like:

    1. Are more people writing reviews of businesses nowadays? Has customer awareness/usage of this tool increased? If so, how much.

    2. Has the general population been confused by the lack of uniformity in online reviews over the past few years? How much did the Google-Zagat Score-Fiasco, Google-broken-functionality, Google-SMB-reviews-disappearing issues affected Question #1?

    3. How has all of this affected the incidence of fake reviews? Are things better now? Or are fake reviews a real problem still?

    4. Has the move to visible Google+ profiles & “log-in via Facebook to leave a review or comment” helped to diminish fake reviews?

    A minimal understanding of human nature would suggest a moderate acceptance of “Oh well, fake reviews will happen. After all, we’re human and that’s how it goes.” Business owners may denounce their competitors or unscrupulously praise their own business via reviews in order to increase their chances of survival. But beyond what we’d expect, is the problem accelerating? Improving? There was a time when we were getting calls every week from clients with review issues. Now I’m not getting any calls. Does this mean that things have improved?

    Thanks.

  10. @Jeff – I can partially answer your question (all anecdotal of course). We have built a solution for review bias in a travel vertical. We supplement written reviews with user submitted videos of a location (www.campgroundviews.com). This allows folks to “see” if a review has validity. If the person writes “this is the most amazing RV park we have ever stayed at” and the video shows a complete dump well then you know the reviewer is full of it.

    Back to your questions: we host all the videos on Youtube and leave comments enabled. Before the major comment/ login change on Youtube we averaged about 5-6 off topic or crazy comments per week across the various videos. Since the change we average 1 per month. By taking away anonymity people can not sit behind a computer screen and spout nonsense (well you can but it takes more effort).

    Back to general local SEO: we have seen an overall decline in the volume of reviews which hints at the underlying problem with the review model. Folks will only take the effort to write reviews for services and products that are of a “social” nature and make them look good/ helpful if their no longer anonymous. They willingly share their travel, food, and product reviews. They also are more than happy to write nasty reviews against companies that do not fit their desires BUT they are unwilling to write positive reviews on things “non-social” but still important services and products. For example how willing would someone be to write a glowing review of their divorce attorney if their anonymity is stripped away? How about their OB GYN? Ever written a review about your local furniture store?

    For the major local companies it is a trade off between quality and volume. Google has always been on the wrong side of the review eco-system and their efforts have hurt their overall results. In our travel vertical we find that the worst written review are the ones on Google. The vast majority read something like this “5 stars – A ok place” or “1 star – bad”. To someone trying to make a decision what they heck do these reviews mean?

    A good written review needs to go further than just the star and a statement; it needs to help the next customer to make a decision. This is why fake reviews are such an important and active part of the local eco. It is so easy to write a fake negative review which only encourages the business owner to write a fake positive review (and not just one but half a dozen). The fake reviews provide details that a normal review generally does not. These details are indexed, ranked, and eventually help placement. As long as their is a reward for faking it the problem will continue.

  11. The very concept of online reviews is flawed from the start. It assumes a level of integrity and honesty from the reviewers that simply doesn’t exist Add to that the anonymity afforded by aliases and you have a whole sub-culture of bottom-feeders trolling the internet looking for easy targets to victimize with fake negative reviews or people trying to boost sales with fake positive reviews.
    Sites that specialize in consumer reviews were doomed from the start. Sites that try to verify the legitimacy of reviews will go broke doing so and sites like goodreads that embraces and encourages the fake reviews are a fraud.

  12. @Jeffrey

    All great questions but hard to answer other than anecdotally.

    Several points of reference that provide some data:
    Bright Local’s study that shows that trust in reviews from strangers is increasing.

    Yelp’s announcements about their growing review corpus.

    International and national attention to cleaning up reviews with the strong cooperation of the review companies.

  13. Thanks @mike & @mark. Anecdotal evidence and personal observations & awareness of SMB experience is really most of what we have. But I’d figure that those who follow and post here would have the best birds-eye view on the state of reviews. Thanks guys!

  14. @Mike If I were to request they leave recommendations wherever they felt comfortable, the result would be no recommendations. My customers are B2B and almost all of them understand LinkedIn even if they’re not active there. I do welcome recommendations elsewhere but not as a first choice. I also have much more confidence their recommendations won’t mysteriously disappear from LinkedIn. ;)

  15. Nothing irks me more than people who game reviews. I’ve heard it said that 5-star amazon reviews are almost all bought and paid for. I find that tragic.

    One big challenge we face is simply google+. Especially in legal marketing. The problems are 1. hardly any non-marketers use it, and 2. hardly any real people want to “check in” or make a real-name review that places them at a law office.

  16. I tend to think there is hope for reviews yet and that like anything else it is going to take time for these systems to mature.

    The whole fake reviews thing should in principle be easy for platforms like Google to put measures in place. Especially so when you are talking about local businesses.

    If I operate my little business in Birmingham, UK and have reviews from Google users that live in and around Birmingham then great. If I have several reviews that are highly positive but somewhat vapid and originate from new accounts with no history (or somewhere else in the world) then…

    It’s rare you see good fake reviews – that is, they are highly praiseworthy but generally empty in terms of real, usable information for buyers so again, the folks that will win the reviews battle are the ones inspiring real reviews from real customers.

    Yelp is tricky in the UK as people don’t really seem to use it so even if you encourage a review it will be largely hidden but other platforms do exist and asking happy customers for an honest review works so well I find it bewildering the lengths folks will go to to fake it (badly).

    Reviews, like link building and other spammed elements of the online marketing mix will grow up and as folks opt for the easy option, it does not work (or gets them in trouble) they will come back and do it properly next time.

    All good fun. :)
    Marcus

  17. In the UK it is illegal to post fake review, positive or negative. You can view a summary of the ‎relevant laws here ‎‎.

    I have not yet heard of a successful prosecution though. ‎

    It seems in the UK the practice of faking online reviews is on the increase but the good news is that ‎the new law, Defamation Act 2013 makes it far easier than it used to be to have reviews removed ‎from Yelp and Google Local. In most cases they don’t really have a choice but to remove the fake ‎reviews once they are sent a Defamation Notice, which is great for small business.

  18. GOOGLE You must stop all reviews for websites and remove all made.

    People who can’t get or give good service get no great client feedback

    So they fake it… they go to google write a review about their own website

    People online trust it, use that company

    While honest companies who don’t get use google for such reviews get none

    It’s a sham and how could google possibly foresee it? It’s not a game google, when you consider how serious it is.

    It’s becoming materially worse.

  19. quote: “It’s not really illegal since there are so many people doing it..”

    The fact that it is technically illegal is almost irrelevant otherwise so many people wouldn’t be doing it. Therefore if you were to define it in practice (i.e. the real world) that statement might as well be correct.

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