From the state attorney general’s office:
Posing as the owner of a yogurt shop in Brooklyn, representatives from Attorney General Schneiderman’s office called the leading SEO companies in New York to request assistance in combating negative reviews on consumer-review websites. During these calls, representatives from some of these companies offered to write fake reviews of the yogurt shop and post them on consumer-review websites such as Yelp.com, Google Local and Citysearch.com, as part of their reputation management services.
The investigation revealed that SEO companies were using advanced IP spoofing techniques to hide their identities, as well as setting up hundreds of bogus online profiles on consumer review websites to post the reviews. The investigation found that many consumer-review websites have implemented filters to detect and filter or delete fake reviews, with Yelp’s being the most aggressive. …
Besides using their own employees to write and post the reviews, the companies hired freelance writers from as far away as the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe for $1 to $10 per review. One SEO company required that freelancers have an established Yelp account, more than 3 months old, with more than 15 reviews (at least half unfiltered), and 10 Yelp “friends,” as an attempt to avoid Yelp’s advanced review filter.
The operation was called “Operation Clean Turf” (because, you know, of “astroturfing”). The OAG announced that it had reached an agreement with 19 companies to stop writing fake online reviews and pay $350,000 in penalties. Quote from AG Eric Schneiderman in the press release: “‘Astroturfing’ is the 21st century’s version of false advertising, and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it.”
None of the allegations made by the AG’s office are surprising. If you talk with people in online marketing and/or content you’ll hear all sorts of stories about stuff like this. And apparently it’s a growing problem. Hell, we’ve had people try to astroturf posts here at AOA.
And, you know, what else would you expect? Any system with value to someone — whether it be online recommendations, Google’s Page Rank, the world financial markets — will end up being the target of manipulation. Such is the modern world.
That said, sometimes people are really, truly irked by the spoons.