Should You Rely on User Comments to Make Decisions?

Do you check the approvals attached to a book or product you are considering? I do, and I’m more likely to purchase one that is high-ranked.

Turns out–really, no surprise–lots of companies seed ratings with positive comments. Read this article on how the FTC, the EU and other international agencies are cracking down on this misleading activity.

Whose 5 stars? Online ‘user’ reviews get scrutiny

by Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press

NEW YORK — The website said an herbal remedy could cure cancer and offered miraculous firsthand accounts. One woman offered to “share my experience”: The formula had routed her lymphoma, sparing her radiation treatment, she said.

The woman, Holly Bacon, also owned the company selling the product she praised online, authorities said.

A growing number of regulators, trade groups and site owners are cracking down on so-called “AstroTurf” marketing — seeding the Internet with seemingly grass-roots testimonials, reviews and comments that aren’t as organic as they seem.

The Federal Trade Commission told Bacon in a settlement last fall to tone down her claims and change her promotional tactics. And this month, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced a $300,000 settlement with a cosmetic surgery firm he said had employees pose as clients to write glowing testimonials and online journals.

The FTC plans to vote this summer on updating 29-year-old guidelines on endorsements, making it clear they ban phony online reviews.

“While we did not have such a thing called blogs or Twitter or the social media out there in 1980, the same principles about transparency and truth in advertising apply,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s advertising division.

The European Union has responded by directing member countries to ban falsely representing oneself as a consumer, and other trade groups and businesses are deleting suspect reviews and issuing apologies.

Still, some experts say it may prove difficult to enforce traditional truth-in-advertising standards on the freewheeling, ever-expanding Web.

“We haven’t worked out basic social and economic norms about this, much less legal norms,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “This is an environment where a lot of the rules have been scrambled.”

Dubious testimonials are nothing new — flip through a Victorian women’s magazine.



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