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Fake reviews: how is industry responding?

01/05/2013

One of our board directors, Armand David, was asked his views on his views on the reach and impact of ‘fake reviews’ by The Sun. His comments were published today and are available in full below.

It’s difficult to gauge how bad the problem of fake reviews is – it’s virtually impossible to police every review posted on every website in the world, and nor would you want to. There are few things to take encouragement from.

First – the reputational damage for companies perpetrating these ‘unfair trading practices’ – as they are known under UK law – is tremendous. We think this is why the issue of ‘astroturfing’ does not seem to be as widespread as you might expect, given how long there have been opportunities to post fake reviews in the Amazon community, Tripadvisor, and so on.

Second – the Internet community at large is usually quick to respond, not to mention competitors. Have a look at this story in which HTC put Samsung to task for this very issue.

Third – most  sites that host reviews provide easy recourse in the event of unfair or invalid reviews. On Tripadvisor you can report a ‘problem with a review’ in a matter of a few clicks, similarly on Amazon and so on.

Fourth – there is a rise in the prevalence and respectability of community reviews sites like Trustpilot, Revoo & Bazaarvoice, and in social rankings schemes for reviewers on major commercial and reviews sites that assign authority to trustworthy reviewers. This will in time start to limit the credibility of the ‘spam’ or ‘fake’ reviewers as they will have little or no social currency. That is to say, their reviews won’t appear with any prominence because people have voted them down as a trustworthy source of insight. This is a fast developing area.

However – there are incidents where these do come through. In addition to the HTC / Samsung case, authors have kicked off on Amazon, filing negative stories about each other’s’ books (and positive ones too, under aliases) – have a look at what the Guardian turned up here.

Under UK law – astroturfing is illegal and can result in hefty fines or even jail sentences. A law introduced in 2008 (the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations act of 2008) is pretty clear that any action that causes – unfairly – a consumer to make a commercial decision (to buy or not to buy) is illegal. A fake review would certainly fall in this category and even if you didn’t choose to prosecute, the additional reputational damage of potentially being taken to task in this way will provide a fairly strong disincentive to fake it.