back to article Uncle Sam cracks down on faked reviews and bad influencers

America's consumer fraud watchdog is revising its rules for online reviews and testimonials in advertising, raising the possibility of greater legal risk for those deceptively endorsing – or disparaging – products or services online in exchange for payment. The proposed rules from the FTC target fake reviews and, if approved, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Next to rule on: SEO and Ads

    Huge fines for PageRank manipulation are necessary. Those include link selling, buying, or maintenance of satellite sites for fake back links.

    Paid ads should be made clearly distinguishable from other content with additional reputation metrics visible to the users. The metrics should include destination domain age, full contact information of the advertiser, quality of such contact information (specific vs 3rd party), a malware and phishing summary from multiple scanners (like Virustotal).

    Contact information of advertisers must be verified by sending physical cards to those addresses. Which means no more virtual contacts. And if redirect funnels are used, for example 3rd party postal redirect services, those should be marked as such based on aggregated signals when multiple advertisers use a single postal address.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Next to rule on: SEO and Ads

      Ads must not send directly to the destination, but first show a page with the quality summary and contact, only then allow a user to click "Proceed to the advertiser's site".

      Online ad platforms had enough time to develop their business. Now it is time to make them responsible for ad quality and transparency.

  2. Blackjack Silver badge

    So... fake reviews will just be mostly be outsourced to poor countries? People who get paid like one cent of a dollar or less by review?

    While I am happy they are finally doing something, how about some rules about what the sites themselves should do when they catch an account making like a hundred reviews or more a day? Or when an account gets reporter for doing so?

    Banning both the account and IP may not do much but it helps, so does removing evident fake reviews.

    Heck having a minimum text limit in reviews would greatly help. Just making it so reviews have to be at least 500 words long minimum for example.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      > having a minimum text limit in reviews would greatly help

      Indeed, Google's Android Play Store is a great place to easily see hundreds of fake reviews, all with 5 stars and for only comment one single, totally irrelevant random word (probably some script picking randomly words out of a list)...

      That been said I'm unsure this will change anything. By now this is a billion-dollar industry, it won't just curl up and die because some toothless US agency bared its (missing) fangs. :-(

      1. low_resolution_foxxes

        There are literal websites devoted to developing niche content that are entirely fabricated to establish click-through revenue from ad programs.

        A friend of mine made a few million pounds setting up 'affiliate programs' or whatever the hell they called it. It was basically just lying about a borderline-useless product and writing reviews in a really manipulative way. Often the end website doesn't even write the content, they just copy and paste articles directly from the advertiser

  3. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    The FCUKing Great White Dope Elephant in the Room

    They do not cover political advertisements; that's a whole other free speech debate.

    Why not? Because ..... ?

    An educated guess would be that one cannot rely on anything advertised being delivered as promised, or even at all in many cases. So what does that make the likes of the FTC/Federal Trade Commission [Our mission is protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.]?

    A nest of fanged vipers or a conspiracy of toothless cowards ‽ .

    Do you care to guess?

  4. Andy Non Silver badge

    Amazon fake reviews

    Fake reviews are often listed highest in relevance by Amazon. Better to ignore the 5 star rave reviews, some obviously written by the same person and change the list to show the MOST RECENT reviews, which often paint a very different picture of the products. If the rave reviews are replaced with unhappy punters giving one or two stars you know to skip the product.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Amazon fake reviews

      "Most recent" doesn't you help either, if that marketing campaign was recent enough: You'll be served an endless list of 5-star reviews with a single random word.

      What I do is only check the bad reviews. Those at least are genuine, and reading them I get a pretty good idea of the potential shortcomings and problems a product might have (obviously you need to use your noggin to filter the rabid subjectivity or cluelessness of some statements).

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Amazon fake reviews

        What I do is only check the bad reviews. Those at least are genuine

        What makes you think a vendor wouldn't pay shills to write negative reviews for competitors' products?

        If there are any competing products, then any strategy for encouraging positive reviews works in reverse against the competitors. For example, negative sponsored reviews: send reviewers products from competitors, with the understanding that the reviews will be negative. The reviewer still gets to keep the product, or sell it on.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Amazon fake reviews

          > What makes you think a vendor wouldn't pay shills to write negative reviews for competitors' products?

          That's where you need to use your noggin, as I said: Senseless badmouthing is as suspect as senseless gushing; and if they describe some failing, you can usually spot (comparing to other comments) if they are over-egging the pudding (or even inventing stuff).

          The basic principle is that only unhappy people have specific, objective things to tell, happy people have nothing special to say except that they are satisfied, which indeed is totally subjective and thus very easily faked.

    2. low_resolution_foxxes

      Re: Amazon fake reviews

      The best way to evaluate a product is to look for reviews that avoid short hysterical arguments. Protip: if someone is being paid to promote a product, they will generally NEVER criticise the product. So if you can find some "average" reviews that provide pros and cons in a balanced way, you know you can trust those reviews.

      The worst offenders are:

      5-star! Perfect!

      Amazing customer service!

      You need to buy this product!

      Best/worst thing!

      Faultless product!

  5. Tron Silver badge

    I give the Reg five stars. The posts are informative and honest. Much better than mumsnet.

    Banning [dynamic] IPs is a really bad idea.

    There will only be half a dozen people policing every review on the internet.

    They do not cover political advertisements; that's a whole other free speech debate.

    Why not? Because ..... ?

    Because politicians are expect to lie, allowed to lie, and always do. Still waiting for Utopia, Boris.

    It is a good thing that they are going after the culprits and not the platforms. Makes a nice change.

    1. Graham Lockley

      Re: I give the Reg five stars. The posts are informative and honest. Much better than mumsnet.

      The one downvote suggests that you upset a BoJo/Brexit fan with your comment

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: I give the Reg five stars. The posts are informative and honest. Much better than mumsnet.

      Banning IP addresses only makes sense if the owning network is unwilling to help stop the abuse.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: I give the Reg five stars. The posts are informative and honest. Much better than mumsnet.

        My previous employer had a fixed line from the business arm of an ISP mostly known for its home provision. The ISP didn't really filter port 25 so many places blocked its entire IP range. This meant the company's customers often filtered out our emails!

        1. Cybersaber

          Re: I give the Reg five stars. The posts are informative and honest. Much better than mumsnet.

          Let me restate the scenario so you can see the problem:

          My employer leased a building in the red light district surrounded by brothels. He was totally legit and honest, but couldn't figure out why respectable customers wouldn't visit his storefront.

          The problem isn't that the IP range was blocked - the problem was doing business with an ISP that was doing a bad job with security and harboring bad actors.

          Note: This comment is specific in scope to email practices. Whether an IP range should be blocked or not is very nuanced. The commenter above was talking about port 25 (the port associated with Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) specifically. blocking a range of addresses STILL isn't something most (reputable) filtering companies do except in exceptional situations. Since it was done, and the poster explained WHY - that's why I made the comparison I did.

  6. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    How about review ransom?

    I hired a tax preparer for $800 and they were really difficult to work with despite lots of 5-star reviews on Yelp. I wrote a 2-star review after they said everything was done. Nothing angry, just a writeup of the process to get the work done. They actually did not finish my taxes. They were holding the final work for ransom to get a good review. Two of the owners kept phoning me about my disrespect like they were the Mafia. They added a dishonest character attack as a Yelp response.

    I have the ability to fight this company but I bet many just write the 5-star review out of fear.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: How about review ransom?

      That's a different but very real problem: Strong-arming people to give good reviews, or else.

      It won't obviously happen for some bauble on Amazon, but it is true that unflattering reviews of places and companies might have unexpected and unsavory real world consequences. From what I've heard (might be BS) the mafia is already in the market of providing "Review correction incentives" ("Fix that bad review or your kneecap gets it")...

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: How about review ransom?

      This is why you NEVER write a review until services have been rendered completely and in full. So that they have nothing to hang over you (or someone else). I'd also be considering going to the police or taking them to court for breach of contract depending on the situation.

  7. mark l 2 Silver badge

    One common scam on Amazon is for a 3rd party seller to list a product which is low priced and high volume to get lots of good reviews, such as pack of 50 cable ties for 99p or something similar. Once they have enough 5 star reviews for that product they change the listing to be a completely different and more expensive product and it looks at first glance this is a product with lots of 5 star reviews. That is until you read some of those reviews and see thing such as 'great for tying up the loose cables in my PC' on what is supposed to be a handbag or watch etc.

    Amazon could stamp out this practice overnight by having any product listing where the description, title, photos are all changed go to a manual review and compare the before and after listings. But its been ongoing for years and they have done nothing to stop it. But if Amazon did do something about all the fake reviews that would show that half of the tat they sell on their is really only worth 1 or 2 stars at best, and they don't want to loose money so they turn a blind eye to it.

  8. ChadF

    Silly ideas

    "Company-controlled review websites."

    Well.. this one is unrealistic.

    If you're selling products on your site, it's a reasonable expectation to provide customers with a review feature. For example, if I had a small business which sells a few of my products directly from my own site, I would have these options:

    1 - Include a simple customer review feature for the benefit of the customers. This could be as simple as using an existing reviews/feedback plugin for whatever software I'm using to run the site.

    2 - Pay some "independent" review service to handle reviews, potentially leaking personal customer information to that company and/or requiring the customers to sign up on some other random service (and agree to their arbitrary terms of service) just to leave a review.

    3 - Not include reviews at all. And if I'm a nobody seller, I probably won't even be enough of a drop in the ocean for any free 3rd party review site to include my products. And certainly without any coupled options, such as "only show verified purchases".

    So if #1 is outlawed, and #2 is a waste of my money for something that has no significant ROI incentive (other than being a "nice" thing to provide to customers). that only leaves #3, which just punishes the customers.

    Now f you want to prohibit a company from using access to their own website from manipulate reviews, that's fine. This would be no different than prohibiting a search engine promoting their own products over competitors.

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