New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently announced that 19 companies have agreed to stop hiring search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing entities to write fake online reviews after an undercover investigation into digital "astroturfing" allegedly found that such practices violate "multiple state laws against false advertising." According to a September 23, 2013, press release, "Operation Clean Turf" reportedly revealed that companies posting fake consumer reviews on Yelp, Google Local and similar sites often used techniques to conceal their identifies, including "creating fake online profiles on consumer review websites and paying freelance writers from as far away as the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe for $1 to $10 per review." The investigation also identified SEO companies that purportedly offered to produce fake reviews on behalf of their clients as part of their reputation management services.
"Consumers rely on reviews from their peers to make daily purchasing decisions on anything from food and clothing to recreation and sightseeing," said Schneiderman, who noted that astroturfing violates, inter alia, New York Executive Law § 63(12), and New York General Business Law §§ 349 and 350. "This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution. And companies that continue to engage in these practices 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." See The New York Times, September 22, 2013.