FTC Cracks Down on Astroturfing

If you are like many online consumers, you probably assume that some of the positive product reviews posted by consumers on sites like Amazon.com are actually posted by agents of the manufacturer. But did you know that it is illegal for a business to post positive reviews of its own products anonymously? The practice is called “astroturfing,” referring to phony grassroots efforts to promote products. Last year the Federal Trade Commission developed a new guidelines for Internet endorsements that require bloggers and others that publish their opinions online to reveal their connections to the products that they review. The guidelines are similar to truth-in-advertising principles that have existed for print and television for decades. This week, public relations agency Reverb Communications was fined $16,000 by the FTC and has agreed to stop posting fake game reviews for its clients on ecommerce sites like iTunes. This is the first move by the FTC to enforce its new guidelines, and it is expected that more such cases will follow.