The Internet is awash with fake reviews. The reviews on sites like Amazon, Yelp, Tripadvisor, Google, and numerous review sites have grown to be totally untrustworthy since many of the reviews are fake. It’s not hard to find evidence of fake reviews, such as for a sketchy product on Amazon that has a thousands 5-star reviews. The problem is so widespread that last year Amazon sued the leaders of over 10,000 fake review sites.
You may ask what this has to do with broadband. When I read review sites about experiences with smaller ISPs, I almost always find fake reviews sprinkled in with real ones. For every review that talks about a technician that was late for an installation or that complains about the price, there are short flowery reviews that say that the ISP is amazing at customer service or that the ISP is perfect. The problem is that it’s hard to completely know which reviews are fake, although many of the short saccharine reviews are likely not real.
The Federal Trade Commission has proposed new regulations to deter fake reviews. Fake reviews are already illegal – it’s against the law to purposefully try to deceive consumers. The FTC is proposing giant fines to try to stop the practice. The agency is proposing a fine of up to $50,000 for each fake review, which can be levied for each consumer that sees the fake review. The agency says that officially creating and enforcing these rules and penalties will help the agency in court when it pursues companies and people who post fake reviews.
The FTC particularly wants to tamp down the companies that buy and sell fake reviews. Some of the consumer advocates who track the issue say that as many as 40% of all reviews are fake and that most fake reviews are coming from a fake-review industry that pays people to write fake reviews. (how do people who write fake reviews for a living describe their jobs – writer or con artist?)
The penalties would apply to a wide variety of deceptive practices. Fines can be levied against the people who write fake reviews, the companies that pay for them, and the companies that buy fake reviews. There are other categories of fakes spelled out in the proposed rules, such as reviews that are written by people who don’t exist or reviews written by employees of the company being reviewed.
The new rules would prohibit companies from posting fake reviews on its own website where it sells products. The rules would stop businesses from suppressing bad reviews by intimating people to take them down – a practice a friend of mine saw first-hand when an angry restaurant owner called after he left a so-so review.
An ISP does not want to be the poster child for this new law because the fines can quickly become gigantic, and your reputation could be quickly shot in your local market. People assume that the FTC only goes after giant companies, but it also chases small offenders as a way to dissuade bad practices. Reviews from customers are powerful, and most of us are swayed when somebody says something good about a company. This rule is a warning to avoid taking the easy path of creating fake positive reviews instead of encouraging customers who love you to write and sign real positive reviews.