SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Texas-based online reputation management firm Humankind Design Ltd. agreed to settle a lawsuit brought forth in late June by Edmunds.com. The suit alleged that Humankind, parent company of GlowingReviews.co, registered more than 2,000 fake accounts with Edmunds.com on behalf of 25 dealers across the country.
Edmunds announced Wednesday morning that the two parties had reached an agreement. Humankind Owner Justin Anderson said he signed his copy of the settlement, but claimed he had yet to see an executed copy of their agreement.
Anderson did not answer calls seeking comment, but he did respond to a series of e-mails. “I assume it’s coming, because we’ve agreed in principle,” he wrote.
Ken Levin, general counsel for Edmunds.com, told Auto Dealer Monthly the agreement was reached yesterday. In its original complaint, Edmunds only sought a temporary injunction to stop Humankind from registering additional accounts on its site until a trial. With the settlement, Levin said, the marketing firm agreed to a permanent injunction.
Humankind also reportedly agreed to pay Edmunds what Levin referred to as a “meaningful amount” in damages and attorneys’ fees. “We settled for an amount less than what we would have asked for in trial,” he noted.
Another condition of the settlement was that Humankind would make available to Edmunds details of its business operations. “We asked for some other information so we could understand better how their business works, because this may not be the only company we need to go after,” Levin said. “The more we understand about this business, the smarter we can be about deciding what we need to do in the future.”
The original suit alleged GlowingReviews posted 76 fraudulent reviews from fake accounts on behalf of 25 dealers across the country. Anderson clarified on Wednesday that his firm actually submitted more than that. “We had a few dealerships and a few marketing agencies using GlowingReviews to post reviews at Edmunds and other sites,” Anderson wrote. “These dealerships and agencies would collect customer comment cards and transcribe them into Glowing Reviews to post. This process happened 99 times across all of our customers.”
As Edmunds pointed out in its suit, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based automotive information site only allows one account per person in its terms of service. As for Humankind’s claim it submitted more than were caught by Edmunds’ review screeners, a spokesperson explained: “We can confidently link 76 unpublished reviews back to Humankind, and that we screen out false reviews regularly. The others were most likely caught but not identified as Humankind's.”
GlowingReviews.co has since shut down since the lawsuit was filed in June. Anderson claimed employees were laid off “due to shutting the site.”
“I just want this to be over. …,” Anderson added. “We can’t afford to fight a legal battle, so it’s easier just to close.”
— Stephanie Forshee