The Federal Trade Commission is officially stepping in on fake beauty reviews.
The organization said Monday that Sunday Riley — the person and the company — had settled charges related to fake online reviews. According to the order, the company’s employees are prohibited from misrepresenting themselves as “an independent or ordinary user of the product” in online reviews, and said they would need to disclose their affiliation with the company.
According to the FTC, Sunday Riley employees, including Riley, who serves as the founder and chief executive officer, posted product reviews on sephora.com using “fake accounts created to hide their identity.” The complaint also charges that Riley requested other employees do the same thing.
“After Sephora removed fake employee-written reviews, Sunday Riley Skincare employees suspected this was because Sephora recognized the reviews as coming from their IP addresses,” a statement from the FTC said. “Sunday Riley Skincare then allegedly obtained, according to one of the company’s managers, ‘an Express VPN account [to]…allow us to hide our IP address and location when we write reviews.'”
The FTC also quotes a July 2016 e-mail from Riley, directing staff to, “create three accounts on sephora.com, registered as…different identities.” The e-mail went on to provide directions, including on how to use the virtual private network to hide their identities, to leave only five-star reviews, and to dislike negative reviews.
“After enough dislikes, it is removed. This directly translates into sales,” Riley wrote in an e-mail, according to the FTC.
The FTC charged the company and Riley with making false or misleading claims that the fake reviews reflected the opinions of ordinary product users, and deceptively failing to disclose that the reviews were written by Riley or employees.
Allegations around fake reviews for Sunday Riley first leaked onto the Internet in 2018, and eventually led to FTC action.
The brand makes products such as Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment, $105; Luna Retinol Sleeping Night Oil, $105, and C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum, $85.
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