Caveat emptor on anonymous websites' consumer advice
Shocked that those anonymous consumer reviews you've read on travel and restaurant websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp! are sometimes faked, even paid for by the businesses they glowingly tout? If so, we've got a bridge that might interest you, about 150 miles south of here. In Brooklyn.
The Internet is full of useful information, but in the absence of regulation, there's also plenty of misinformation and out-and-out fraud to be found. You have to take everything you read with a grain of salt because there's almost no way of knowing if something is legit or not -- especially any kind of anonymous posting.
Those are the bedrock of sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor; supposedly, contributors are real, everyday people offering honest opinions about the restaurants they've eaten at, hotels they've stayed at, etc. Problem is, no one -- even the sites themselves -- can tell if they're bona fide or not. That's how good some of the fraudulent posters (who solicit such reviews for between $1 and $10 apiece) are.
News of this sort of thing, subject of an Associated Press story on
Page 1 of Tuesday's Gazette, is alarming, because consumers tend to trust these sites and have become increasingly reliant on them to decide where to spend their money.
But Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who recently investigated the situation and levied $350,000 in penalties against 19 companies, is kidding himself if he thinks he'll be able to keep the players honest without the kind of sustained commitment it would take -- the kind his office can ill afford. His role should be limited to calling New Yorkers' attention to the problem and warning them to read those sites with a skeptical eye.