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Online reviews: A matter of trust

Why you should be careful about trusting online reviews

New York fines 19 companies for ‘21st century version of false advertising’.

September 29, 2013 5:46 by

Most of us wouldn’t take the risk of purchasing a product online, or trying a new restaurant, or booking a hotel suite, without doing at least a modicum of online search.

After years of depending on newspapers and magazines for information, influence and/or inspiration, tech-savvy consumers are now increasingly relying on online reviews, before making purchase decisions.

When Kippreport spoke to Saif Al Zarooni, founder of Dubai-based review site, in November 2012, he said that it’s proven many times that both positive and negative reviews help increase conversion rates for online retailers around the world.

“I, for one, as a consumer, feel more comfortable making a purchase after I’ve seen the reviews,” he said at the time. “We believe that reviews are the future in this region and people should see reviews before making a decision, just like people do in the West.”

Still, have you read positive reviews about a product or service, only to try it yourself and end up severely disappointed and angry? Have you considered the possibility that some (if not all) of the reviews – that have influenced at least one or hundreds of your purchase decisions – were falsely created?

New York regulators conducted a one-year investigation, called Operation Clean Turf, which encompassed companies that create fake reviews and clients that buy them. Last week, they announced a comprehensive crackdown on companies that create such deceptive reviews on the internet.

By producing fake reviews, these companies violated multiple state laws against false advertising and engaged in illegal and deceptive business practises. Agreements have been reached with 19 companies in order to cease misleading practises and pay a total of $350,000 in penalties.

According to Aaron Schur, senior litigation counsel for review website Yelp, although the investigation was mainly aimed at companies based in New York, the impact will have a much wider reach. “This shows that fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement,” he says.

“This investigation on large-scale and intentional deceit on the internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution,” says Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General. “And companies that continue to engage in these practises should take note: ‘Astroturfing’ is the 21st century’s version of false advertising and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it.”

Most review sites, including Dubai’s Yadig and Yelp, promise a rigorous process of ensuring that all of the reviews posted are genuine. Unless authorities around the world follow New York’s example and punish companies that create fake reviews and, in essence, advertise falsely, how can consumers truly trust online reviews?

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