Last year TechCrunch outed PR firm Reverb Communications for astroturfing in the iTunes app store on behalf of their clients. As it turns out, the FTC took notice and recent revealed that they settled with the firm that posted misleading reviews of their clients products. As someone that's been intimately involved with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and drafted our Association's FTC guidelines, my question is: Why not go after the app makers too?
Look, I know it's a dog eat dog world out there in app-land. With well over 100,000 apps it's not hard to figure out that eventually some app makers would resort to unethical practices to get noticed. The problem here is that the companies working with Reverb made a conscious effort to hire them and sign off on their unethical practices; this means you aren't guilty by association but guilty by commitment. Association is "well, we did work with them but didn't know". Commitment is granting permission to your agency to carry out these acts.
It's not yet known what the penalty or settlement with the FTC was, but let's hope it's enough to keep shady companies from thinking twice about engaging these sorts of behaviors again. As of this blog post both their web sites are down (reverbinc.com and reverbcommunications.com), however Google's cache shows their full client roster here.