Is it illegal for online and affiliate marketers to create fake review websites?
The FTC can go Ramsay Snow on deceptive marketers (financially speaking, of course) — so no, it isn’t at all wise to operate fake review and consumer report websites. BUT, the issue isn’t black and white. Proper disclosures and a trickery-free user interface will most likely keep you in the legal clear.
Basically, the key to staying on the right side of online marketing law is honesty. If something is an advertisement, label it as such. If you have a business or personal relationship with a product or service you promote – disclose it.
List of review website affiliate marketing “techniques” that could get you in trouble with the law
Review websites are a popular form of affiliate marketing. But are they legal? Here’s a handy list.
- Paying a person or using a service to “get” reviews is against regulation.
- Writing a review for a product you’ve never used is against regulation.
- Creating a website that presents itself as an unbiased consumer review portal, when in reality its main purpose is to sell one brand, is against regulation.
- Failing to disclose a material relationship between a review website and parent company, or some other association that could bias the “reviews,” is against regulation.
I’m an affiliate marketer. What laws and government guidelines should I know?
Anybody involved in online marketing – whether they be an affiliate marketer or business owner with an online presence – should be intimately familiar with the Federal Trade Commission’s DOT COM DISCLOSURES. To read the blow-by-blow government guide on what is and is not acceptable when it comes to online advertisements and marketing campaigns, go here.
Warning: For the non-legal-geek, the DCD is crushingly boring. As such, you may just want to check out our summary here. We can’t promise it’s any less boring than the FTC’s version, but it’s a heck of a lot shorter.
The Dot Com Disclosures can be vague in areas. If you are unsure if one of your techniques could get you in trouble, contact an attorney who has helped online business owners with FTC cases in the past.
Also, all businesspeople should understand the Lanham Act, specifically what it says about false advertising and unfair competition. And lastly, it’s a good idea to follow the California State online privacy laws – as the Internet cares not for state boundaries, and if people in California can use and interact with your site, then your best bet is to adhere to California law.
Can I Make Up Testimonials and Reviews? After All, How Is Anybody Really Going To Know If They Are Fake Or Not!?
We understand. It’s tempting. How is anybody going to find out if your testimonials are real or fake? For starters, if you use stock photography for the testimonial pictures, that’s a pretty good indicator of the reviews’ falsity. Also, the FTC can audit your site, and if you don’t have actual people to match up with the testimonials, you could find yourself looking down the barrel of a hefty FTC fine.
The Bottom Line When It Comes To Marketing With Fake Review Websites
If you don’t want to risk being sucker-punched by the FTC, follow the Dot Com Disclosures to the letter. If you are even the least bit unsure if your website passes legal muster, get in touch with an online marketing attorney to conduct an audit of your site and business. It’s a lot less than you may think, and it will probably save you money and headaches down the road.
To speak with an online affiliate marketing attorney, get in touch with Kelly / Warner Law today. We’re not just lawyers, we’re also affiliate marketers.