Edmunds.com has filed a lawsuit against online reputation management company Humankind Design Ltd. for attempting to post fraudulent reviews on the site, according to a petition filed today.
Edmunds filed the suit in Texas after it discovered that Humankind tried to register almost 2,200 fake members on the site, the company said.
Humankind, of Friendswood, Texas, helps companies with reputation management. According to the company's Web site, it can help a company improve its Google results, in part by pushing out negative reviews that show up on the first page with good ones and by fixing problems and improving ratings on third-party review sites.
Edmunds said it identified 25 dealers who hired Humankind to fill out reviews. The company declined to give those dealers' names or locations.
Justin Anderson, owner of Humankind, said today Edmunds.com has not contacted his company about the allegations and he has not seen a copy of the lawsuit. He found out about the lawsuit through journalists calling asking for a comment.
"I can say that we completely disagree with the assertion that we are posting fraudulent reviews online," Anderson said.
Anyone who posts a review on Edmunds.com is required to go on the site and agree to its membership agreement, Kenneth Levin, general counsel for Edmunds.com, said in an interview. This agreement forbids using profanity and posting anything that isn't based on the reviewer's personal experience.
The agreement also requires that members agree to register only once using a single user name, and to agree to not register under another person's name or choose a user name designed to deceive or mislead visitors.
Edmunds monitors all of its reviews before they are posted on the site, and all reviews must conform with the membership agreement in order to be posted. Humankind tried to post its first fake review on Edmunds.com on Jan. 22., an Edmunds spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
In early March, Edmunds employees monitoring the reviews identified a large number of registrations that were generating reviews that were not real, and traced those reviews back to Humankind, Levin said.
Anderson said Humankind does not post fake reviews, but it is part of Humankind's service to post comment cards from customers at dealerships. Anderson said Humankind posts all the cards sent to them, so it would be on the dealer if negative cards were left out.
"We felt that we were within Edmund's terms of service, obviously they would disagree," Anderson said.
Anderson said he agrees with Edmunds' assertion that fake reviews are bad, and Humankind even has a section on its Web site about how to collect reviews properly and stay within the law.
Edmunds is confident that it has removed from its site most, if not all, of the fake reviews posted by Humankind, Levin said. It is seeking "temporary and permanent injunctive relief" and monetary damages, according to its lawsuit petition.
Anderson said that he would like to talk to Edmunds.com about the allegations and work out a solution to the issues.
Packages with Humankind start at $100 per month, according to its Web site.
Levin said Edmunds is not afraid its reliability will be compromised by filing a lawsuit against Humankind.
"Web sites that have reviews of businesses, like Yelp or TripAdvisor -- everyone knows that all of those sites have issues with fraudulent reviews," Levin said. "It's not a secret that this is an [issue] across all consumer review Web sites."
Humankind, on its site, also identifies 15 review sites on which it is prepared to post fake reviews, including Google+, Foursquare and Yelp, Edmunds.com said in a statement.
The lawsuit against Humankind is not the first Edmunds has filed to protect its site and users.
Edmunds won an injunction in May 2006 against a user in New York who was harassing members on the Web site's forum page.
In 2010, Edmunds helped the FBI to stop Web sites that had created a fake vehicle escrow service using Edmunds' name, Levin said, adding that Edmunds had nothing to do with the scam.
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