Edmunds.com is carrying on where Google left off a year ago in policing what it considers to be fraudulent reviews of dealerships.
Edmunds.com, the giant third-party auto research site, could have just filed its civil lawsuit last month against Humankind Design Ltd. of Friendswood, Texas, alleging fraudulent reviews and left it at that.
But the company decided to make more noise about it by flagging other third-party sites potentially targeted by the review company. And it put out a press release to tell the world about the lawsuit.
"We're raising awareness with this litigation," said Ken Levin, Edmunds.com's general counsel and executive vice president.
In the lawsuit, filed in state court in Galveston County, Texas, Edmunds.com alleges that Humankind Design and another affiliated company set up more than 2,000 user registrations on Edmunds.com to post phony positive reviews. The reviews were for 25 dealerships that Edmunds.com is refusing to name.
Edmunds.com has asked for damages and an injunction prohibiting the company from trying similar means to post reviews. Levin said he believes from speaking with two of the dealers represented by Humankind Design that most of the 25 dealerships had no idea that the vendor was operating in such a manner. He also believes none of the phony reviews were posted on Edmunds.com.
Humankind Design owner Justin Anderson denied the allegations in an Automotive News story last month. DealerRater Vice President Heather MacKinnon said she's surprised vendors are still trying to evade the increasingly sophisticated filters of Edmunds.com and DealerRater.com for phony reviews.
"It's really not that difficult to catch people at it anymore," MacKinnon said. DealerRater is a leading site for consumers to post reviews about dealerships.
She said phony review mills proliferated until about a year ago for all industries, not just automotive retailing. But last year Google, trying to eliminate phony reviews, changed its detection criteria and purged thousands of dealership reviews in one fell swoop from custom Google pages that dealers had set up.
It outraged dealers, who said many legitimate reviews were purged in the process. But it sent a clear message that reputation management vendors must heed.