A buddy of mine, Doug Marks, recently opened my eyes to some sites that are putting out misleading product reviews fueled by Google Ad Words. I wrote about this on my InfoWorld blog with a story entitled "FTC and Google need to crack down on scam review sites" which provides a counterpoint to the concerns on the US FTC's blogger disclosure rules that become effective this week.
When the FTC announced that it would require disclosure of fees and endorsements by bloggers starting Dec. 1, some complained this was overkill. I have several personal blogs outside of InfoWorld, and I don't mind disclosing that I've occasionally received review copies of books, CDs, and the like. I also run Google ads on some of my blogs. All told, the money that comes in is less than the price of a decent guitar, and I dont believe I've compromised my integrity as a writer. I suspect many bloggers are similar; if they make any money, it's to fund their hobby.
This isn't just a simple case of some over-zealous fan astroturfing as happens from time to time in open source projects (and elsewhere.) As I Googled around, I noticed these scam review sites for not just piano and guitar lessons, but exercise equipment, language learning software, vitamins, even web development tools. So its not just an isolated incident. Doug Marks has complained to Google that these sites violate their policies, but so far, there's been no response. Hopefully the FTC will crack down on these sites or force Google to do so.
To be clear, I have purchased Doug Marks Metal Method DVD Course and have no hesitation recommending it to others. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm an affiliate. I have not tried out the competing courses, but I'm suspicious of any company that engages in these kind of misleading campaigns.
Have you seen these scam review sites for other products? Let me know.