“Pay to Play” and Fake App Store Reviews: What You Need to Know

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No matter what type of product or service you’re looking for online, chances are there are reviews written about it. From recipes to pajamas, cameras to restaurants, tourist attractions to video game apps, a smart shopper always reads the reviews before making a purchase, right?

Well, it’s true that most shoppers read reviews, but whether or not it’s smart to take them into consideration when making a purchase is something we need to talk about.

Who Reads Online Reviews?

submitting reviews for apps online


According to Pew Research, 82 percent of adults in the United States read online reviews at least sometimes, while 40 percent always do so. Still, just over half of those people feel confident in the trustworthiness of the review.

This article cites different research that says 90 percent of people allowed a positive review to influence their buying decision, and 86 percent said a negative review made an impact on their purchasing decision. With that in mind, you can see why it’s so critical for companies to have positive reviews about their products if they want to attract new customers.

Critical enough to lie about it?

You bet.

Fake Reviews

real vs fake reviews


These stats show that 40 percent of people form an opinion after reading just one to three reviews. Meanwhile, 44 percent say the reviews have to be less than a month old for them to take it seriously. For businesses, this means they need a constant stream of new positive reviews.

What if they can’t get them?

Some companies offer free or discounted products to individuals in exchange for reviews on their websites or another site where their products are sold or discussed. While they’re required to ask for honest reviews and the reviewer is supposed to disclose the gift-in-exchange-for-review situation, you can imagine how getting a free product might influence a reviewer to speak positively about it. It can also happen that the reviewer does not disclose the affiliation—and in shadier cases, the company might specifically ask the reviewer not to mention the freebie.

Last year, a hotel in Dublin refused an influencer’s request for a free stay in exchange for being featured on her YouTube channel and went on to ban all bloggers and influencers after receiving backlash about it. The article quotes the hotel owner as saying the entire situation “‘… puts into question the authenticity of influencer marketing,’ because ‘She would have spoken nicely about the hotel only because she was getting it for free.'”

“Pay to Post”


As this TechCrunch post explains, there are individuals and companies who promise “…to get your press release or story on the top of various websites for the low, low price of between $500 and $13,000.” Individual writers sometimes accept money from companies to name drop or promote a product in a post or article.

In the article that followed an investigation on this very topic, Jon Christian wrote:

“People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands.”

It’s happening everywhere, on sites we use—and trust—on a daily basis, despite policies at many of these organizations that forbid this type of activity. Of course, there are other organizations that aren’t reputable or honest at all, and they base their businesses around the pay to post model.

Then we have influencers, a “job” that didn’t exist just a few short years ago. Most of us are aware that many people with large social media followings are paid to promote certain products. Though influencers are supposed to disclose these types of affiliations, they might not make the affiliation clear or they might not disclose it at all.

Even when the influencer follows the rules and says, very clearly, “This is a sponsored post. I was paid to share this photo of me using this product,” followers (especially kids and teenagers) don’t always register the full implications of that. They might think, “Sure, they paid her to talk about this skincare line because she uses it and got great results!” when, in fact, she might not use the products at all—she just claims to on social media.

The Problem With Fake Reviews and Pay to Post

the problem with fake reviews


What can you trust?

We all want to make good purchasing decisions, and we rely on those who have been there, used that, to tell us whether the experience was good or bad before we spend our hard-earned money. Fake reviews can lead us to the wrong decision. Influencers may influence us to make the wrong choice.

Even as adults, it can be tricky to navigate this. For a child or a teenager, it becomes even more difficult. They may not be aware of how influencers are paid, for example. A young child who looks up to a particular social media star doesn’t realize those photos are staged, the clothes are gifts from a designer, and the star’s “favorite” products aren’t even something he or she uses.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Children

trusting reviews online


When it comes to pay to post, remember: the news is supposed to be unbiased. If a news article is recommending a product or service, there’s a good chance it’s a paid publicity piece. Read your favorite sites with a critical eye. Start to notice when you see various companies and products discussed in articles and yes even on your favorite morning news show!

Fake reviews can show up anywhere. That includes company websites, third-party sellers, review sites like Yelp, and even the app store. If you’re deciding which apps to allow your child to download, or if you are looking at an app or service for yourself it’s always best not to solely rely on reviews to make a decision. Do additional research about the nature and safety of the app or service. In the end, the only way to know may be to download it yourself and try it out before making a purchase decision. At Netsanity, we always offer you a free trial so that you can give make a solid decision on what parental controls are best for you and your family.

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