The Sunday Riley fake review scandal has reached a settlement: On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) formally banned the Texas-based skin-care brand from leaving fake online reviews. The agreement between Sunday Riley and the FTC doesn't require the brand to admit to falsifying online product reviews in the past, it only requires that Sunday Riley vow not to do so in the future, BuzzFeed reports.
In the formal complaint against Sunday Riley, the FTC alleges that company employees posted fake product reviews on Sephora.com, using fake user accounts, on Sephora's website from November 2015 to August 2017. Allure reached out to Sunday Riley for comment but didn't hear back before the time of publication.
For those unfamiliar with incident, this all began in fall 2018, when a Reddit user who claimed to be a former Sunday Riley employee leaked what appeared to be an internal company email thread on Reddit, which reportedly asked employees to "write at least three reviews" of two Sunday Riley products on Sephora.com.
The purported leaked email's subject line read: "Homework time - Sephora.com reviews," and according to the FTC complaint, they said it included step-by-step instructions on how team members should hide their IP addresses so that the faux reviews wouldn't get traced back to the company's HQ. Per the FTC complaint, employees were also allegedly specifically told how to structure their fake reviews so as to seem convincing ("it helps to make yourself seem relatable") and indistinguishable as Sunday Riley employees ("mix and match your identities, pick different ages, locations, etc."). According to the FTC complaint, they were also instructed to "dislike" negative reviews on Sunday Riley products, which, after enough dislikes, would cause the review to disappear.
Within two days of the initial whistleblower post, Sunday Riley addressed the alleged leak on Instagram, saying, in part, that the brand "did encourage people to post positive reviews at the launch of this product." The brand did not post the statement to its own account but rather, posted a comment in response to a post by beauty industry watchdog Estée Laundry. The full comment read as follows:
"As many of you may 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. 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. 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."
When Allure contacted the brand for comment over the summer, they sent over the following statement in an email: "We committed in 2018 to publicly releasing audits of our business practices and ethics," it read. Now, if employees choose to leave reviews on their own accord, they are obligated to disclose their affiliation with the brand, Sunday Riley said, although now they are discouraging employees from leaving any reviews at all.
While there's zero question that customer reviews sell product, the accuracy and authenticity of online reviews is increasingly coming under fire (see our deep dive on the topic). There's also no question that customers will continue to turn to reviews while researching their next purchase, before shelling out their hard-earned cash on one bottle of product that can easily cost upwards of a few hundred dollars.
So, the fact that the FTC is stepping in to help prevent this from happening in the future, or at least curb the trend, is a step in the right direction.
As noted, Allure has reached out to Sunday Riley for comment, and we will update this story as more information becomes available.
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Originally Appeared on Allure