The agency that handles PR for Harmonix, 505 Games and other developers will settle charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission that its employees posed as ordinary consumers to post positive game reviews on the iTunes App store.
Reverb Communications, whose clients also include MTV Games, CDV Software Entertainment and Emergent Game Technologies, must remove from the iTunes Store all reviews that misrepresent the author as an ordinary consumer. The rest of the settlement is an agreement that Reverb and its owner, Tracie Snitker, won't post reviews without disclosing the relevant connections they have with the seller of the product or service concerned.
The specific products were not mentioned. Kotaku has contacted Reverb Communications for comment. Any statements will be updated here.
An FTC news release said that, between November 2008 and May 2009, Reverb and Snitker "posted reviews about their clients' games at the iTunes store using account names that gave readers the impression the reviews were written by disinterested consumers, according to the FTC complaint.
"Reverb and Snitker did not disclose that they were hired to promote the games and that they often received a percentage of the sales," the statement said.
Last year, the FTC revised its endorsements and testimonial guidelines for online product reviews. The FTC said that anyone connected to the seller of a product or service, or anyone who receives cash or in-kind compensation for reviewing that product or service "should disclose the material connection the reviewer shares with the seller of the product or service." The guideline applies to both employees of the seller as well as any agency advertising on its behalf.
"Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing need to abide by long-held principles of truth in advertising," Mary Engle, Director of the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices, dsif in a statement. "Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers."