Skincare brand Sunday Riley has reached an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission after the brand admitted to encouraging employees to write positive product reviews on Sephora’s website under fake names.
In an official press release, Sunday Riley agreed to settle with the FTC after being charged with misleading customers after posting product reviews at the direction of the company’s CEO, Sunday Riley, and failing to disclose that those reviews were written by employees.
“Dishonesty in the online marketplace harms shoppers, as well as firms that play fair and square,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in an official statement. “Posting fake reviews on shopping websites or buying and selling fake followers is illegal. It undermines the marketplace, and the FTC will not tolerate it.”
According to the settlement, the FTC prohibits Sunday Riley from engaging in “similar allegedly illegal conduct in the future” and is not requiring the brand to give “any refunds to consumers, forfeiture of profits or admission of wrongdoing,” a spokesperson for FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
But there are some who believe the brand should have faced a harsher punishment including Chopra and FTC Commissioner Kelly Slaughter, who both voted against the settlement and released a joint statement disagreeing with the FTC’s decision.
“This settlement sends the wrong message to the marketplace,” they wrote. “Dishonest firms may come to conclude that posting fake reviews is a viable strategy, given the proposed outcome here. Honest firms, who are the biggest victims of this fraud, may be wondering if they are losing out by following the law. Consumers may come to lack confidence that reviews are truthful.”
PEOPLE has reached out to Sunday Riley for comment.
Last year a former Sunday Riley employee shared an email with the subject “Homework time – Sephora.com Reviews” on a Reddit thread titled, “[PSA] Sunday Riley Employee: We Write Fake Sephora Reviews,” which ignited the controversy.
In the email, the brand’s employees were told to write “at least” three reviews over the course of two weeks to support the launch of Sunday Riley’s Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask and Space Race Fight Acne, Oil + Pores at Warp Speed Kit.
“I’m sharing this because I’m no longer an employee there and they are one of the most awful places to work, but especially for the people who shop us at Sephora, because a lot of the really great reviews you read are fake,” the ex-employee wrote of the brand, which was founded in 2009 by Houston entrepreneur Sunday Riley.
“We were forced to write fake reviews for our products on an ongoing basis, which came direct from Sunday Riley herself and her Head of Sales. I saved one of those emails to share here. Also, check out the glassdoor reviews for Sunday Riley, the ones that we weren’t asked to write, anyway, which are ACCURATE AF.”
In the email, employees were told what product details to include in the reviews. “Credibility is the key to the reviews! When reviewing Saturn please address things like how cooling it felt, the green color, the non-drying mask effect, radiance boosting, got rid of your acne after a couple uses.”
The story went viral once the anonymous Instagram account @esteelaundry, which shares beauty industry gossip, posted the news of the Reddit thread. Shortly after, Estee Laundry posted a comment from Sunday Riley’s Instagram account, in which the brand admitted to posting the fake reviews.
“As many of you know, we are making an effort to bring more transparency to our clients. The simple and official answer to this Reddit post is that yes, this email was sent by a former employee to several members of our company,” the comment read.
“At one point, we did encourage people to post positive reviews at the launch of this product, consistent with their experiences. There are a lot of reasons for doing that, including the fact that competitors will often post negative reviews of products to swing opinion. It doesn’t really matter what the reasoning was. We have hundreds of thousands of reviews across platforms around the globe and it would be physically impossible for us to have posted even a fraction of these reviews.”
The brand concluded the statement by saying, “Client word-of-mouth, sharing how our products have changed their skin, has been the cornerstone of our success. In the end, our products and their results stand for themselves.”