New York cracks down on fake online reviews with $350,000 in fines

Kudos to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who pursued a major investigation of the fake online review business that ended with agreements with 19 companies to cease writing fake reviews and to pay fines totaling more than $350,000. Online reviews matter, which is why some companies are willing to pay $1 to $10 per review to boost their reputations on sites like Yelp and Google Local.

I’m a fan of online reviews in general, and for health care providers in particular. But I acknowledge that fake reviews are a problem. The online review companies understand this and are going after fakes with filtering software and other approaches. So it’s good to see law enforcement join the fray to help protect consumers and enable online review sites to flourish. As Schneiderman says:

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.”

The battle against fake reviews is far from helpless. In addition to automated fake-detection tools and legal action, there are business models and community structures that can clean things up. Angie’s List, for example, does not suffer from fake reviews the way free sites do. On the flipside, Angie’s suffers from limited traffic as a result of its paywall –and it also doesn’t understand how to adjust its rating scheme for health care. They’ve asked me literally twenty times to rate Northeast Surgical Center, even though I’ve told them I’m not a patient there.

But eventually someone will figure out how to build a trustworthy, open community that generates high quality reviews and couples them with objective data on quality of process and outcomes.

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By David E. Williams of the Health Business Group.

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