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Are fake online reviews hurting your product?

27 August 2010

On Friday it was reported that the US FTC has ruled against a firm whose employees, posing as ordinary consumers, posted favourable reviews of its own clients’ iPhone applications. This type of marketing activity is known as “astroturfing.” The firm must now remove all the reviews.
In the UK, astroturfing is illegal as it is “blacklisted” by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. If degrading reviews of competitors’ products are also posted, this could breach the Comparative Advertising Directive, and constitute malicious falsehood, for which damages could be claimed.

The precise extent of astroturfing online is unknown – though there are certain ways to detect if a review is genuine or fake. But in a world where the casual consumer relies heavily on reviews and averaged star-ratings (be it on Amazon, TripAdvisor or iTunes), astroturfing can clearly impact on sales if left unchecked.

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