Monday, August 3, 2009

Watch out how you lift your lifestyle

This is an old story, but its lessons can obviously be extrapolated to the rest of us. The story ran in the New York Times on July 14:

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 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 independent sources.

The net result was that Lifestyle Lift had to cease these practices and pay $300,000 to the state.

As it turns out, I've talked about Lifestyle Lift before - but not about reviews written by Lifestyle Lift, but about reviews NOT written by Lifestyle Lift. You see, Lifestyle Lift had its own problems with reviews written about it. Back in March 2008, I wrote about a lawsuit filed by Lifestyle Lift against Real Self, basically charging Real Self with trademark violation for using the term "Lifestyle Lift" on its website.

According to the Citizen Media Law Project, the two parties settled in May 2008. Terms were not disclosed.

But that settlement obviously didn't prevent Real Self from commenting on the New York Attorney General's action:

Last year, Lifestyle Lift and RealSelf settled two lawsuits, one a trademark infringement claim by Lifestyle Lift, and the other a counter-claim by RealSelf based on this same issue of fake postings.

The news out of New York today is thought to be the first case in the US combating "astroturfing" -- the practice of employees of a company posing on the Internet as unaffiliated or independent consumers to praise a product or attack detractors....

Today's news brings up an issue takes very seriously -- inauthentic or fraudulent postings to the site. We take great pride in the content our community provides, and strongly believe that our community members benefit tremendously by having access to detailed information on cosmetic treatments. With this in mind, it is imperative that all the information on is trustworthy.

To ensure this is the case, should we detect or suspect a fake posting, though rare, we remove the content immediately and investigate the issue further. If we do discover this type of activity taking place, we ban the community member from participating, and take any additional action necessary to insure the issue does not come up again.

We also don’t wait for the community to flag suspected fake posts. Although this is a valuable way for us to become aware of this type of behavior, we also monitor all cosmetic treatment reviews and use various techniques that look for patterns, including but not limited to IP address reverse lookups, that suggest materials written by a company representative.

We maintain a zero-tolerance policy against attempts to manipulate the ratings of cosmetic procedures.

But it's not just plastic surgery that has these deceptive reviews. Go to your favorite web browser and enter the terms "antivirus software reviews." Perhaps the website will show up in your search results. After some words about antivirus software, and some repetitions of the phrase "antivirus software reviews," you get to a highlighted message:

Our Top Choice Award™ goes to BitDefender 2009 for it's outstanding virus detection and prevention, speed, ease of use, and price.

So how did the unnamed reviewers at Top Choice Reviews make this determination?

To date, we have helped over 1 million internet visitors make educated and sound decisions in choosing various software products and online services.

All products are chosen based on performance and value. All product reviews and research are performed by our staff in our labs using our standard review process. Our rankings are determined by the results of our standard review process.

We understand how overwhelming it can be to research and compare the many different products that are available on the market. That's why we do it for you. You can always be assured that we will give you accurate, honest, and unbiased reviews.

So what is the standard review process? And who administers it? Well, according to whois, the contact at Top Choice Reviews is someone called "info" with no phone number and a post office box in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Administrative Contact:,
P.O. Box 9333
St Paul, MN 55109

Technical Contact:,
P.O. Box 9333
St Paul, MN 55109

And no, BitDefender isn't based in St. Paul. (Actually, its headquarters are in Romania.) But you still have to wonder about a rating agency that can only be contacted via an "info" e-mail address.
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