The lawsuit accuses Friendswood, Texas-based Humankind Design, who bill themselves as an "online reputation company," of violating their terms of service, trademark infringement, fraud, false advertising and other acts.
Edmunds' lawsuit claims that Humankind registered scores of fake member accounts on their site that were used to create content designed to sway users' opinions of car dealers.
Apparently, this is Humankind's whole business model. The lawsuit alleges that Humankind operates websites like glowingreviews.co, which, according to TIME, charge $25 and up a month to post reviews at what it calls “supported sites" such as Yelp, Google Plus, FourSquare, CitySearch, Cars.com, and now Edmunds.com. They say that they use the logos of these companies without their consent, hence the trademark violation.
Edmunds says they found the fake reviews because they conduct thorough searches of every dealer review submitted to their site. (If they're anything like the "Ingrid's story is amazing, but I made $2,700 working from home last month and bought a 1992 Subaru Legacy" ones we get, they're pretty easy to spot.)
Perhaps the most damning accusation is that Edmunds claims Humankind and GlowingReviews come right out and say they know that their content violates these websites' terms of service:
In general, the review sites state that you must be posting for yourself and not for someone else. So in these cases the answer would be yes. That said, if you take the time to actually read the TOS you'll see that it's very easy to break something.
But this really begs looking back at the big picture. Take SEO as an example. Every link that you build to your site, every fiverr gig that you buy, every article you publish on EZine Articles is violating Google TOS. In fact, anything you do to help improve your site's ranking violates Google terms.
Every business plays in this grey area and this service just lets you do it much more efficiently.
Here's what Edmunds said to TIME about that:
“Given the explicit acknowledgement that they were breaking our terms of service, we felt like we had to skip the usual step of filing a cease-and-desist order,” said Ken Levin, senior executive vice president and general counsel at Edmunds.com, explaining why the company saw it necessary to file for an injunction ordering Humankind to stop posting reviews at Edmunds’ site. “[A cease-and-desist request] probably just wouldn’t be effective. In all likelihood, the response to that is ‘OK, we’ll stop.’ And then they’d start doing it again a little later.”
Exact damages sought by Edmunds are not specified in the lawsuit.
The TIME story goes much deeper into Humankind and their website. Contacted by the news site, a spokesman for Yelp said he was unaware of these specific comments on their site, but said they're hardly the only company doing this, and that they're currently working to crack down on fake reviews.
I can't wait to see how this one plays out in court. It could have a lasting impact on these attempts to feed fake reviews onto websites.
Have you ever seen fake-looking review comments at Edmunds?