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Are Fake Consumer Reviews A Serious Problem On The Web?

Since Amazon.com blazed the trail in 1995 by encouraging customers and visitors to post feedback on its vast offering of online products, more than 5 million consumers have posted tens of millions of reviews on the site.  When Amazon opened the feedback game, most websites followed and its impossible to even estimate how many millions of reviews exist across the web.

[amazon-product text="Rock Band Playstation 3" type="text"]B003A9H0WE [/amazon-product]

A key question has always been how authentic the reviews actually are.  Even when websites require registration to validate consumers creating reviews, it doesn't guarantee that there's not hidden motives.

This is definitely the case in the hair, beauty and fashion retail world where all types of products are constantly reviewed by a wide range of consumers.   Some experts question the validity of product reviews with concerns that as advertisers and manufacturers are scrambling for recession dollars they are posting "fake" reviews.  Is that possible?

Apparently so.  Luckily the FTC is keeping a close eye on this issue and recently went to battle with a PR Firm suspected of posting fake reviews of client's video games.  The PR firm decided to settle with the FTC rather than to risk a PR nightmare of media headlines.

PR firm, Reverb Communications, represents a number of games developers, including Harmonix, creator of Rock Band.  The company and its owner, Tracie Snitker, were accused by the FTC of engaging in deceptive advertising by having staff members post game reviews without disclosing that they were hired to promote the games and that they often received a percentage of the sales.

Between November 2008 and May 2009, Reverb and Snitker posted reviews about their clients' games at the iTunes store using account names that gave readers the impression the reviews were written by impartial consumers, says the FTC. Reverb denied the allegations, claiming that while staff had posted reviews, they'd done so after buying the games with their own money and playing them in their own time, TGDaily reports.

"Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing, need to abide by long-held principles of truth ina dvertising," said Mary Engle, director of the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices. "Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers," se added, reports TGDaily writer Emma Woollacott.

Under the proposed settlement, Reverb and Snitker are barred from misrepresenting themselves as ordinary consumers, and from endorsing or making claims about a product or service unless they disclose any relevant connections with the seller. They've also been ordered to remove any previously posted endorsements that misrepresent them as independent users or ordinary consumers, the article reports.

Is this case just the tip of the iceberg and does fake reviews extend into the world of hair, beauty and fashion products?

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