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back to article Faking reviews? You should fret about more than illegality

A recent newspaper investigation uncovered evidence that companies are paying agencies to create false online reviews for their services. But what those companies may not realise is that this is illegal and could ruin their businesses. The practice is called astroturfing, because it fakes grass-roots support, and it is not only …

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Anonymous Coward

But, but, but...

how am I supposed to get positive reviews elsewise?!

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Anonymous Coward

much easier

For companies to give out free stuff to bloggers in return for "advertorial" gushing reviews.

Due to how well blogger indexes in google searches, the internet is awash with mummy bloggers loving up everything from deep fat fryers to Asus Transformers, all given away in exchange for reviews.

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I take the content

of advertisements with liberal pinch of salt, I expect that there was often more truth to be found in the Daily/Sunday Sport.

"Breaking consumer laws looks bad. Deceiving your customers looks worse. To do both could spell the end of your business."

To do either SHOULD spell the end of the business or at the very least lead to very public humiliation and a very large fine.

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Unhappy

It should but it doesnt

I dont even think getting caught will spell the end of a business.

Customers are too fickle and have too short memories. Sony should be about to go out of business but it wont, its shareprice will hardly budge and people will still buy products.

If a Hotel is caught astroturfing its reviews, it will look bad for a few days but no one will cancel bookings and, importantly, in a week or two no one (except a few IT-oriented types with vicious memories) will remember the incident.

When was the last time people stopped buying products after the ASA found them guilty of false advertising - they just change the advert and every one carries on as normal. Impact on sales is so negligible that it become an acceptable tactic for the company.

Customers are deceived all the time. Companies are caught doing it all the time. Not enough people care.

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I agree

very much so, not only that, you have hit the nail on the head with the short memory or perhaps attention span of the public in general.

We are all slowly being screwed over by degrees. If it's not corporations and big business it's the antics of government and politicians. It seems once the umbrage from the latest outrage has subsided and the new status quo accepted, along comes something else that exploits the consumer, erodes liberties or just take the piss.

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Megaphone

Well it depends...

... if the company is caught astroturfing, and there's a nice site somewhere with good page rank that records instances of said astroturfing, I think you'll find the memory will live on for quite some time - hopefully for as long as people type 'CompanyX Review' into a search engine.

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@AC

"Sony should be about to go out of business but it wont, its shareprice will hardly budge and people will still buy products."

Why is that? The PS3 hacking lawsuit, the PSN network data breach, the battery problems from years ago? It's a $25B company that makes many varied products; batteries, cameras, laptops, game consoles, music, movies, etc. I'd be shocked if a fault in one segment made even a ripple through the rest of the company. Perhaps if it had, they would have handled the PSN breach better and wouldn't have had their music website in Greece or the Sony Ericsson site in Canada cracked open. Seriously, did I miss something?

That said, you're absolutely right that most folks have the attention span of a gnat and buy things with little thought or reason. The saying no such thing as bad press is too often true and accounts for why simple brand recognition will sell nearly anything from pole to pol.

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Anonymous Coward

My point

"It's a $25B company that makes many varied products; batteries, cameras, laptops, game consoles, music, movies, etc. I'd be shocked if a fault in one segment made even a ripple through the rest of the company."

Which is why it doesnt care and wont care.

Any segment of its business can piss off customers as much as it wants because it knows that the overall effect will be almost non-existent.

People will still buy a Sony camera and send off their personal details on the warranty card, they wont stop to think that this is the company that almost deliberately fails to protect it.

The end result of this is that there is no economic incentive for Sony (*) to spend money to protect its customer data. They know that when it breaches, they say "sorry", concoct some story about how fantastic the hackers must have been and move on.

Customers on the other hand, get to be in the position of paying for a product and then suffering the consequences. The "free market" should enable customers to express discontent by their spending habits but it rarely works that way - or the public doesnt give enough of a toss about its own data...

--

* not just Sony but its easier than listing every megacorp....

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Trollface

Brilliant article

This is the sort of socially responsible reporting and analysis for which The Register is rightfully praised. Clear, concise, weighing both moral and commercial considerations, and coming out on the side of the little man.

Well done!. I've recommended The Register to all my friends!

(There, I've left a favourable review. Now, please release my old granny and little puppy from the costody of the BOFH)

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Joke

Now, now, Miss Bee...

Stop that at once!

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Now, now, Miss Bee...

Tsk.

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this only matters if you get caught

doesn't it?

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Re: this only matters if you get caught

but so does bank robbery Ken...

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Anonymous Coward

yeah, but bank robbery is commonly investigated

Have you tried making trading standards investigate anything? Ever?

Compared to that a bank robbery usually has all plods in the vicinity spending 6h+ of their timesheet time on trawling for the perpetrator.

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CT

Source of freelance income

I subscribe to a freelance job marketplace site which has had jobs posted to write reviews. Best one was for "experience days out" - hot air ballooning, drive round Brands Hatch etc.

You didn't have to go on the day to write the review.

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id rather

I don't see why this is a bad thing. Id far rather have paid professional writers producing these reviews than the public anyway

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I htink the point..

is that even the 'professional' writers have never done or been to the place being reviewed. So are therefor not in a position to write a review in the first place.

For example, would you think it a good idea if I wrote a review about your handle, NomNomNom? From that I can deduce you are an overweight virgin, with BO and small genitals. And look, I've never met you or know who you are. But I wrote it professionally, so that's OK then.

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actually

I think you miss my point. In my spare time I do NOT want to be listening to the complaints of the wingeing masses.

If I per chance wanted to read reviews for a hotel, the last thing I would want to read was a series of amateur, poorly spelt, run-of-the-mill dry tone scrawls using facebook-style grammar and complaining about such mundanities as "stains on the carpet" and "no smile on the porter".

What I am looking for in a review is an enjoyable, professional piece outlining the merits of the place I will visit. A foray into the atmosphere and aura of the place told with a flowing pen if you will. The kind of thing that is enjoyable for light reading over tea.

If that means companies must hire professional writers to produce reviews from now on then so be it. Not only does this create jobs but it raises the bar in society full of low standards. In fact if I had it my way shoddy reviews replete with spelling and grammatical errors would be deleted from these so-called "review" sites.

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WTF?

Was your post for real..?

What I look for in a review is an honest account from someone who has experienced / bought / used the product or service I'm potentially interested in using / doing / buying.

I'd much rather it be badly written but truthful than professionally written but fabricated.

Otherwise I'd just read the adverts.

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@NomNomNom

I think it is you who misses the point.

I'll use a recent hotel visit as an example.

The hotel's own blurb (or "review" as you would call it) talked of a superbly decorated, modern hotel with great views over a thriving city. On the strength of their "reviews" I would use it to put up a family member or client I wanted to impress.

My review (and, incidentally that of a stranger whose review I read after the fact) would be: Great location but grubby rooms with adequate bathroom and dirty carpets. I would stay there but only if it were the cheapest (it was) and I certainly wouldn't put anyone up there if I were trying to impress them.

Without customer reviews nobody would be able to tell this particular 4-star hotel apart from a number of much better ones in the same part of the same city. This would be a shame, because the hotel isn't always cheaper than its much-better rivals.

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@NomNomNom

What you want then is not reviews, but well written marketing material.

They are two different things. reviews are written by people who have experienced what is being reviewed, marketing is written by marketing people paid to write nice things about the experience, who may not have experienced it.

Whilst many reviews may be poorly written, at least they are (or should be - see article) honest. Honesty is not necessary a word often associated with marketing materials.

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Bronze badge

Professional reviews

= people paid to visit places, experience their services, then give an honest opinion.

Reviews written by professionals = people paid to write the reviews that the customer wants.

Yes, internet forums etc. are full of badly written rubbish, and they will generally be whingeing (people rarely feel the need to comment on a satisfactory experience) but that's not really the point of this article,.

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ok

That's fine if you want to read reviews that make you think of dirt and grubs by all means go for it.

All I am saying is at least give me the choice to read the kind of reviews I want to read and don't use the law to effectively ban the types of review you don't aspire to.

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Facepalm

nomnomnom

What a dick

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Trollface

Funny troll is funny

<------------- TROLL LINE --------------->

Everyone above this line has been trolled.

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Silver badge

Trolling

Not sure; original 'alleged troll' post was written with good spelling and grammar, which makes trolling origins seem unlikely.

Lacking in common sense maybe, but not grammar.

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Thumb Down

(@ NomNomNom) so...

You are so sensitive and delicate that you would rather read reviews of clean hotel rooms, at the risk of being confronted with the reality of grubby rooms later on???

Most people would much rather read about roaches from a remote, and then take steps to avoid the premises hosting them. Rather than making their acquaintance in the flesh, after having paid to share their lodgings. In fact, guess what, that's precisely why I read reviews.

FWIW, my shortcut to reviews nowadays is often to look at the lowest ratings first. More often that not, badly written or not, you can tell if someone is just an habitual whiner or whether there is really a problem with the service/product being reviewed.

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Rarely...

... have I seen a troll so well fed in a thread.

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Anonymous Coward

Maybe stating the obvious

As AC 9:24 alluded it's far more difficult to get positive reviews. Service would really have to be top notch (usually at great cost) for many to care enough to write a positive review.

In the hospitality industry this usually means giving out free room upgrades or other freebies, but it's not sustainable to do this always and for everyone. Plus people who read the review but don't get the upgrades get disappointed.

Even in a well run company you'll get one or the other customer who will decide to throw a tantrum for some reason and post a negative review.

We even have the case where, as said in the article, it's actually your competitor writing the bad reviews: "in some cases, could discredit rival businesses."

So given this how are business supposed to protect their reputation?

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Happy

So where can we report offenders?

I smell a great opportunity for someone to operate a web site where "astroturfers" can be outed (or the sneaky ones can out their competitors).

Your ass is (fake) grass...

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Devil

Funny you say that

When I was (a bit) younger, I signed up for a site that would pay you to post 'reviews' to your personal blog. I never quite felt that I could abandon my principles for £5 a review, but I did wonder about doing a name and shame of all the companies I knew were doing it (and that's only the ones I got 'tasks' from)

At the time, never occurred to me the 'tasks' could be illegal but was clearly very unethical which would be why I didn't earn a penny from that venture.

Perhaps I should dig those emails out

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Meh

Companies do not care...

People clearly 'pump' their own products / services all the time on Amazon and other sites - giving themselves 5* reviews. You tell Amazon etc. - they just don't care / do anything about it.

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Facepalm

Title required

Luckily most astroturfers are lazy feckless fools and review normally comprise of comments in inappropriate places stating things like -

Cooking forum -

1 -I had teh greatest oil change ever at Borat's lube and dismantling shop Bolton 0757567887 it was the greatest thing ever. My car now goes faster and uses no fuel

2 - Yes, I too went to Borat's lube and dismantling shop Bolton 0757567887 and my car is also much better and faster

Larger companies may be doing something more sophisticated, but I doubt it.

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Borat's

I phoned the number, and I was surprised to find that Borat's lube and dismantling shop Bolton is a real business.

You do make it sound rather good, I might book my car in.

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Go

I live near Bolton and I think I'll be checking Borat's out.

It sounds great. What was that phone number again?

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Thumb Up

I don't live anywhere near Bolton...

... but based on your cleverly-worded "review", I might actually use them for real!

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Anonymous Coward

Also wen't to Borat's lube shop

and had a great service, even though I don't even own a car.

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Anonymous Coward

Just got back form Borat's lube and dismantling shop Bolton 0757567887

We have the best service by miles.

I mean, they have the best service by miles.

Go there now!

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Devil

How about

... severely restricting marketing in general: it is essentially propaganda, and, to add insult to injury, the customer bears the cost of being misinformed and manipulated. A practical measure would be banning broadcast advertising, that is, all advertising which the recipient has not actively sought to receive. This would allow the useful aspect of providing actual information while eliminating most of the useless or outright harmful drivel. Also, this would level the playing field of established companies and newcomers to some extent.

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Anonymous Coward

Like your idea

"banning [...] all advertising which the recipient has not actively sought to receive" would flatten Google right away.

But back in the real world I can't see it happening.

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Stop

Erm, but...

...if you restricted advertising most of the www would disappear.

Whether that would be a good or bad thing I leave it to the up and down voters to decide ;-)

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and...

... and the only TV channels we'd have would be run by the beeb!?!

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Devil

I'm sure Mr Murdoch would still be broadcasting

He'll just put his prices up to compensate, safe in the knowledge he has a virtual monopoly on sports, movies and popular US imports.

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Anonymous Coward

I arrived at The Register

With high hopes given their "Biting the hand the feeds IT" motto and "Integrity: we've heard of it"

What I found was a bunch of pages with decaying HTML and morally smug articles about how it's wrong to astroturf. Some other articles even ring as being partly true.

To say I was disappointed would be a massive understatement. It's shocking too see such double standards and actual reporting going on. No IT bikini clad lady of the week feature either. This is 2011 isn't it?

I should have stayed at The Inquirer and T3 instead.

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"You didn't have to go on the day to write the review."

Have you considered you probably could have earned even more, by finding who is behind the company concerned, making a list of some of the companies that it works for, getting proof that you didn't have to go on the day and then writing an article for one of the publications or TV programmes that specialise in exposing this sort of scoundrel ?

Or maybe bogus-review-busting could become the next major olympics sport!

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CT

Re: "You didn't have to go on the day to write the review."

Yes, did consider some kind of exposé, but too much effort. Ended up just reporting the job offer to the site admins.

And to clarify, no, I don't write reviews for payment. The job alert just came through under a much wider category that I subscribe to.

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Anonymous Coward

Go Malaysian

- Cut out the agencies. A few years ago the authorities in Malaysia tried to stamp out the apparently standard practice of companies simply handing pre-written reviews for their products/services to journos along with a well stuffed brown envelope. A brief stylistic touch up and they were good to go, and, I suppose, had a lot more time to hang around guzzling freebies at press launches.

A quick flick through the supplements of most UK papers might suggest it's already caught on here.

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Megaphone

Name and shame!!

I really hope that companies who have been doing this are named and shamed.

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Boffin

Probably quite illegal

Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006:

(1)A person is in breach of this section if he—

(a)dishonestly makes a false representation, and

(b)intends, by making the representation—

(i)to make a gain for himself or another, or

(ii)to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

Paying someone to post a false review would very probably come within the definition of fraud.

Whether the Crown Prosecution Service would actually prosecute is another matter...

Of course there's nothing to stop any private person, or association, bringing a prosecution, provided they have enough evidence to show a case to answer.

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most product reviews

online or offline, are not worth 6 inches of piss in the snow.

So here's what I do:

1. buy the product

2. review it myself

3. send it back if I don't like it

Fairly simple thing that, its called having rights.

Nothing you buy these days is as described. Buy the 5 most likely candidates and send 4 of them back. Until marketing folks learn to stop lying so fucking blatantly, their employers will just have to deal with the massive volume of returns that they are generating.

Pay by credit card and you don't even have to risk any of your own money.

Once again, it's called rights. They're not just for criminals and bureaucrats, you can have them too!

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