Consumers are increasingly wary of user-generated reviews because unscrupulous organizations often pay people to post misleading evaluations. But Edmunds.com is fighting back against the fakers. Here's how.
Crowdsourcing is very popular these days. When you search for a new restaurant, or consider buying a PC, you probably look at user reviews on the Web.
But it pays to remember that things are seldom as they seem; many reviews are produced by companies hyping their own products or dissing the products and services of competitors. And it’s not just neighborhood pizzerias. Even respected organizations like Samsung – my colleague Tom Kaneshige wrote about this back in April – have been caught posting fake reviews. (Samsung later apologized and said it stopped the practice.)
Now Edmunds.com, a well-known car shopping website, is suing a Texas company it claims posted 60 or more fake reviews of automobile dealers. Edmunds filed suit against the company after it noticed a pattern in the reviews of roughly two dozen dealers.
“The reviews were obviously not coming from the variety of sources and locations being stated,” Edmunds Chief General Counsel Ken Levin told The Los Angeles Times. Levin said Edmunds discovered about 2,000 fake identities registered on its site and tied them to Humankind Design Ltd., a company that manages online reputations.
The lawsuit alleges that Humankind violated Edmunds’s membership agreement by posting bogus reviews and says the company defrauded other members with those reviews. Humankind did not respond to my request for a comment, but it did speak to a writer with Automotive News:
“I can say that we completely disagree with the assertion that we are posting fraudulent reviews online,” said Justin Anderson, the owner of Humankind.
Edmunds said it identified 25 dealers that hired Humankind to fill out reviews but declined to give those dealers’ names or locations, according to the story in The LA Times
I’m reminded of a Twitter-related scandal that broke last year. It became known that politicians and other attention-grabbing types/businesses were buying followers. For example, a site called fiverr.com offers to sell 1,000 “real” Twitter followers for $5.
User reviews can be very helpful, but it should be no surprise that ethically-challenged businesses are gaming the system for their own advantage. Bottom line: If you see nothing but glowing reviews about a company, product or service, it’s probably a safe assumption that things aren’t what they seem.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.