Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a settlement with cosmetic surgery outfit Lifestyle Lift over the publishing of fake consumer reviews on the Internet.
Under the settlement, Lifestyle Lift will stop publishing anonymous positive reviews about the company to Internet message boards and other Web sites, and will pay $300,000 in penalties and costs to the State of New York. The case is believed to be the first in the nation aimed at combating “astroturfing,” a growing problem on the Internet.
Lifestyle Lift employees published positive reviews and comments about the company to trick Web-browsing consumers into believing that satisfied customers were posting their own stories. These tactics constitute deceptive commercial practices, false advertising, and fraudulent and illegal conduct under New York and federal consumer protection law. The settlement marks a strike against the growing practice of “astroturfing,” in which employees pose as independent consumers to post positive reviews and commentary to Web sites and Internet message boards about their own company.
A few thoughts:
- This practice and case illustrate the high-stakes that now accompany online reviews
- Automated policing mechanisms will need to develop to combat it
- Selected sites will become more trusted (and trade on the authenticity of their reviews) if this practice becomes more widespread
- This settlement will hopefully “chill” astroturfing
Related: Andrew Shotland weighs in on the issue with his own irreverent yet practical take.