If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll have noticed a rash of stories about the proliferation of fake comments on the Internet. Last week, Samsung was fined $340,000 for paying two marketing firms to post favorable reviews of its products and bash those of rivals.
Last month, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman concluded a year-long investigation dubbed “Operation Clean Turf” by announcing a settlement with 19 businesses that had been paying overseas freelancers to post fake consumer reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch. The businesses agreed to pay more than $350,000 in penalties and to stop the practice.
The anonymity afforded by the Internet and the abundance of platforms available for creating and proliferating consumer-related content often makes cyberspace seem like an uncharted frontier where no one is who they appear to be. For marketers that rely on information drawn from sources such as social media, Web searches and e-commerce platforms, the notion that a seemingly verdant field of customer data may be defiled by random plots of synthetic “astroturf” – as fake reviews and profiles are often called – adds exponentially to the already complex task of gaining actionable intelligence from online activity.
If that’s not bad enough, thanks to sophisticated botnet technology, nefarious companies are now taking fake consumer data to a new level by purposely targeting online advertising exchanges with bogus impressions. Last March, the London-based analytics firm Spider.io uncovered a massive bot network that had been emulating human visitors to select websites. According to Spider.io, the botnet was active on more than 200 websites, and caused brands to register millions of bogus clicks, costing them as much as $6 million a month to reach “customers” who would never buy their goods.
While it may be impossible to protect against all potential data pitfalls, there are steps companies can take to ensure they’re making decisions based on the most reliable data available.
A handful of startups are marketing software to help brands detect and promote the most trusted reviews on their website and in social media pages. And there are a number of solutions on the market for preventing and detecting click fraud. It’s important that brands track their campaigns with these third-party tools and work closely with their traffic vendor to validate sources.
Finally, keeping a clean database is the first step toward recognizing anomalies. Experian offers these five tips for cleaning up data sets.
Just remember, when it comes to combatting fake consumer data, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.