Last week, AR blogger and Augmented Legality friend Joseph Rampolla published the results of his investigation into a group of individuals affiliated with the companies AugmentedRealityTrends.com (a collection of blog posts and nes articles about the AR industry) and SeeMore Interactive, which has a handful of AR-related apps in the iTunes app store.
He documented the fact that each person he investigated uses stock photographs as their profile pictures on various social media sites, and he illustrated various details connecting them to each other and to these two companies. Joe’s conclusion was that the entire network of bloggers is a “charade” that “creates a false hot-bed of support, through an imaginary group of profiles to give the illusion that independent bloggers are writing supportive blog posts to promote this organization and a company for profit.”
The phenomenon that Joe describes is a familiar one in online marketing and law enforcement circles. If Joe’s conclusions are correct, however, this would be the first known example of it occurring in the AR industry.
The approach of using fake profiles and disingenuous reviews to boost the profile of a product or service is called “astroturfing,” since it amounts to fake grassroots marketing. The Federal Trade Commission regularly shames and punishes companies that it finds engaging in astroturfing, which it (quite rightly) deems an unfair and deceptive marketing practice. In his podcast about the allegations, Joe Rampolla gives an insightful and heartfelt perspective on how astroturfing erodes trust and exploits relationships.
Nevertheless, fake reviews are still prevalent online, driven by the ostensible anonymity of online communications. Vast, coordinated legions of fake profiles, or “sock puppets,” also formed a major plot point of the thriller Kill Decision, as author Daniel Suarez described to me in this 2012 interview.
Perhaps there’s a silver lining for the industry in all of this: allegations of astroturfing are another indication that augmented reality really has entered the mainstream of modern life.