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 …

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Anonymous Coward

Yes but,

the article mentioned the hospitality industry in particular.

it's a bit hard to send an hotel room back and they don't usually refund just because "you didn't like it".

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Coffee/keyboard

You have the time...

"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."

... and you have the time / energy to do that - wish I did.

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Facepalm

D'OH

yeah, you are right.

well... crap in the sink or something. If enough people do it...

Plenty of scope for excuses too:

I thought you were supposed to do it like that.

My doctor says it's good for my circulation.

I'm not allowed to bend my knees.

etc.

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Not so easy

Buying five items, choosing one and sending the rest back? Do it often enough and you will regret it at some point.

Sooner or later someone is going to go bust, or have admin problems, or refuse to refund you, and you will have serious hassle getting your money back.

Or the item will get lost en route, or you will be out when it is delivered and find a note telling you to pick it up from a depot 20 miles away. Or you will open the package and find it is the wrong item, but try convincing the supplier...

If the items are stolen, damaged or destroyed while in your possession, you can't return them and your insurance, or card company, might a a little suspicious if you claim for 5 brand new laptops.

Do you think that all the CC refunds aren't going to affect your credit rating? Everything else does. And will a retailer carry on sending stuff out to you forever if you always return it? You'll be in a list, and if its a shared list eventually you won't be able to shop anywhere that anyone has heard of.

Mail order is a pain, placing five times the orders you need to is a world of pain.

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Anonymous Coward

Crap in sink

That only infuriates the overworked and underpaid cleaning staff.

To get your message through you'd really have to shit in the manager's chair.

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Not just web forums

There is a long history in publishing of authors for the same house giving each other glowing reviews. Will that now be stamped on?

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yup

There's also a long and dishonourable history in publishing of writers of rival books rubbishing someone else's work so as to promote their own sales. So I guess it balances out.

As someone who has written the occasional book, I'm always happy to give a glowing review to someone from the same publishing house - if the book merits it. Otherwise I politely decline to do the review at all.

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Silver badge

The other side of the coin

Some companies "encourage" their employees to write poor reviews of competitor's products. Everybody treats professional reviewers/bloggers/columnists as VIPs. Most large companies have lists of their celebrity customers, who instantly get gold-plated service, just in case they might mention something bad about the supplier. So every organisation tries it's hardest to distort our perceptions of their, or competitors products - that's what advertising is.

So really false-positive reviews is just another form of online advertising. it's also worldwide, so there's little or nothing that a largely toothless and ineffectual watchdog in one single country can do. Which is rather lucky for newspapers, too - as they are amongst the worst at exaggerating the importance of their stories and inflating minor upsets into major headlines.

Maybe we just need to keep reminding ourselves that very little online content contains supportable facts (on either side) and that advertisements have always trodden the thin line between barely supportable and outright lies.

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Happy

Remember...

Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware!

[ Sona si latine loqueris! ]

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FAIL

Sona si latine...?

Would you buy a used Latin textbook from this man?

O tempora, o mores, o Google translator!

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Trollface

Tempus ad murum hostis eirmod ovum

Cognitu facillimum

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D'you wanna see astroturfing in the wild?

Obviously it'd be libelous of me to suggest that all of the positive reviews of RED Driving School at http://www.reviewcentre.com/reviews184354.html are fake, so I shan't do that. It is kinda funny how all of the positive reviews follow the same template and use much of the same wording though, don't you think?

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Trollface

how topical

http://dilbert.com/fast/2011-06-23 I sense a scam!

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Silver badge
Stop

Anyone for Harriet Klausner?

Amazing woman, apparently speed reads about 12 books a day and post up reviews on Amazon at the same ratio each day.

Except all the books get 5 star reviews and often the review has nothing to do with the actual book.

Yet Amazon has allowed this for years and years.

Total bollocks.

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Silver badge

Surely the best way...

...of discrediting competitors would be to leave overenthusiastic reviews, but spell it badly and throw a few "English as a second language" grammatical errors in.

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Anonymous Coward

"There's no intelligent life here"

That approach requires more intelligence than most web users possess.

90% would still believe the overenthusiastic review and certainly more than half would think it was written in perfect English.

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Silver badge

well

Walt Whitman reviewed his own books, a lot. (Astroturfing "Leaves of Grass", what a concept.) I don't know that he ever got caught at it. Anthony Burgess got caught giving a fairly neutral review to one of his own novels, and got flamed.

Sometimes people seem to do it from simple laziness. See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/24/your-money/24haggler.html?_r=1&scp=5&sq=web%20site%20testimonials&st=cse

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Joke

Fantastic Site, 5/5

Another great article from The Register. I love it. I use this site a lot and its never wrong!!!1! Its always got interesting articles and thoughtful commentators, and even the ads are tasteful and dont interfere with the overall enjoyment of the site. Its classic Red/White styling is bold, distinctive and easy on the eye, and navigation within the site is so simple even my mom can do it. I showed it to all my friends and now they all use it too.

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IR

Funniest when obvious

I was trying to find a local spa for my wife so I could give her a day out. One place had several good reviews, two of them recommended to ask for a particular masseuse called Maxi in poorly written English (uneducated-style, rather than foreign-style). The reviews were written by users named Maxi1 and Maxi2.

I suppose that even politicians get to vote for themselves, but only once.

I like it when the owner writes a review to try to answer complaints in the other reviews and they give themselves only 1 star!

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check out

http://www.reviewapprovalcompany.com/ - they provide an independent checking service to check reviews/testimonials, that sort of thing.

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Does it apply Politicians

There are many stories of political parties organising professionals to hang around on forums and drive 'chat' towards the party line and troll out any dissenters.

Certainly feels to be the case on some of the fora I frequent.

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Silver badge
Unhappy

Professional version - Online Reputation Management.

There are a bunch of outfits which exist to "make your negative web publicity go away"

I wish trading standards would look at them too.

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Black Helicopters

Florida Governor Astroturf

Our governor here in Florida (the one with the uncanny resemblance to Lord Voldemort) got nailed astroturfing about a week ago by one of the more reputable news organizations. He had his cronies draft fake letters of praise that were sent via email to 7 Florida newspapers and one caught onto it.

Now Id better run to Bimini before the Florida Secret Police Inc. drag me off to one of the Dark Lord's newly privatized prisons.

In case anyone's interested in specifics check out http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_local_namesblog/2011/06/rick-scott-cares-he-really-does-care.html

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Terminator

Sir, you have my profoundest sympathy...

That is one SERIOUSLY creepy-looking ****er. Icon for this post's obvious when you think about it; a dash of silver facepaint and voila...

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Silver badge
Thumb Up

Good article - I wish people would learn

Recently bought a window masking product online to help me sleep better.

Now, this is clearly a mom & pop company. They manufacture & ship themselves, have a really good idea and a great implementation and I am quite happy with the end result.

However... my research before buying wasn't very encouraging. Their product only shows up in about a dozen reviews on as many websites. All with suspiciously similar user names, kate something, saying something "I am a nurse/policewoman/night shift worker and product XXX has saved my sleep, they are so great".

I really wish they understood that this kind of sock puppet review, easily figured out in 5 minutes of Googling, because that is how you look for reviews, is a bigger turn-off than a lack of reviews. What carried the day for me was that they had no BBB complaints listed and that their domain registration actually matched the company info. That and knowing Visa would likely cover my butt if called upon. But if anybody else had had a similar product, I would have bought it there instead.

I suspect it's not so much the company itself that should be shot as whatever brain-dead special-needs dodo 'tard they used that passed themselves off as a web marketing specialist.

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Trollface

"the verdict of the public will" Well, we hope so

Just ask the owners of the Camelot Castle "hotel" (OK, it's a bed and breakfast). Oddly enough, a photo of a sandy beach disappeared from their English language main pages but was kept on a German language sub-page. Hmmm.

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Holmes

I run a web forum

and we sometimes get astroturfers. In fact, we love them. Their clumsy efforts are very quickly spotted by the other members and we then have a lot of fun at the astroturfer's expense (e.g. posting photos of real astroturf, sock puppets, belittling whatever product they're trying to pimp) before we kick them out. Sometimes we leave the discussion there for all time as a warning to others, while carefully deleting any URLs to avoid the astroturfer benefiting from a higher Google PageRank.

Astroturfing on a moderated and vaguely intelligent forum is counter-productive. It might work in an anarchic environment like Usenet, but it just vanishes amid the noise.

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