A reputation-management company that Edmunds.com accused of submitting fraudulent auto dealership reviews has agreed to permanently stop registering accounts and posting on Edmunds as part of a legal settlement announced today.
The company, Humankind Design Ltd. of Friendswood, Texas, also agreed to reveal information about thousands of previously submitted reviews and accounts it created on the site, as well as to pay an undisclosed portion of Edmunds’ legal fees.
Edmunds sued Humankind in July after it said its employees noticed some 2,200 accounts that had been registered solely to submit positive reviews for 25 dealerships.
“This is undoubtedly a victory not just for the millions of online users who rely on dealership reviews and ratings from fellow car shoppers, but also for the thousands of honest dealers who embrace authentic customer feedback,” Edmunds President Seth Berkowitz said in a statement. “We will continue to hand screen every review submitted to our site, and we will not hesitate to push back against anyone who tries to compromise the terms of our user agreements.”
Humankind officials, who could not be immediately reached for comment, previously defended the company’s practices, saying part of its service involves publicly posting comment cards filled out by customers.
But Edmunds said all reviews on its site must conform to its membership agreement, which limits users to one account and requires that they reflect users’ personal experiences.
Edmunds said Humankind’s marketing materials listed 15 Web sites, including Google, Yelp and Yahoo, to which it would submit reviews on behalf of clients. Edmunds said it will give a copy of its injunction against Humankind to each of those sites “so that they can determine for themselves whether action is needed to protect their own consumers.”
Edmunds has not identified the dealers Humankind was representing.
Humankind’s Web site, which says reputation-management packages cost as little as $100 a month, says it helps clients replace negative information in Google search results with “good press” and works to improve negative ratings that can hurt sales. Humankind’s owner, Justin Anderson, has not posted a new entry on his company blog, which was previously updated once or twice a month, since May, and no one answered a call to the company’s headquarters today.
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