Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Company Settles Case of Reviews It Faked
By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER
Published: July 14, 2009
Lifestyle Lift, a cosmetic surgery company, has reached a settlement with the State of New York over its attempts to fake positive consumer reviews on the Web, the New York attorney general’s office said Tuesday.
The company had ordered employees to pretend they were satisfied customers and write glowing reviews of its face-lift procedure on Web sites, according to the attorney general’s statement. Lifestyle Lift also created its own sites of face-lift reviews to appear as an independent sources.
"I love my new lips so much," one satisfied customer says, "that I am not afraid to outline them in black anymore!"
One e-mail message, discovered by the attorney general’s office, told employees to “devote the day to doing more postings on the Web as a satisfied client.”
The company will pay $300,000 in penalties and costs to the state. It has also agreed to stop publishing anonymous reviews on Web sites in the voices of satisfied customers and to identify any content created by employees, the statement said.
Andrew M. Cuomo, New York’s attorney general, said in a statement that Lifestyle Lift’s “attempt to generate business by duping consumers was cynical, manipulative and illegal.”
False reviews have become more of a problem as more people rely on sites like Yelp, Amazon or Epinions to rate and learn about products and services.
Some review sites have grown so powerful that consumer reviews can make or break a new business. Lifestyle Lift, which is based in Troy, Mich., and operates 32 centers nationwide, believed that negative reviews had significantly hurt its reputation, the attorney general’s office said.
"Lifestyle" has been good to me," another satisfied customer said, and promices me free follow-up visits, if necessary."
Lifestyle Lift said in a statement that it “regrets that earlier third-party Web site content did not always properly reflect and acknowledge patient comments or indicate that the content was provided by Lifestyle Lift.”
The livelihood of review sites depends on readers trusting their content; weeding out biased reviews from the sea of anonymous, user-generated submissions has been challenging.
“It’s an incredible violation of consumer trust and it’s a pernicious element of the Web that some companies have embraced this idea, under the guise of reputation management,” said Thomas Seery, founder of RealSelf.com, a site on which he said Lifestyle Lift had posted misleading reviews.