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Product Review Site and The Impact of Affiliate Links Scrutinized by NAD Again

Like the FTC, NAD has long been interested in the product review ecosystem and, in particular, in review sites that purport to be impartial and independent. As NAD has often noted, consumers assign significant credibility to information provided by review sites when making their purchasing decisions and, therefore, “when information obtained from a review site is not impartial and independent but rather influenced by a commercial relationship, the reliance consumers place on such information may result in concomitant harm.”

At issue in its latest case is a site operated by Smile Prep, challenged by SmileDirectClub, a maker of clear alignment (invisible braces) products. The site provides information to consumers about teeth straightening and teeth whitening products and services and ranks and rates clear aligner products. As described by NAD, the site, which has affiliate relationships with several companies whose products are reviewed, presents its content as editorial, based on “honest, impartial assessments of its editorial staff and independent from any bias or control from the clear aligner companies,” as well the unbiased and honest opinions of consumers with experience using the products.

SDC argued that while Smile Prep presents the reviews as impartial, they are not: rather, SDC says, “the clear aligner companies reviewed by Smile Prep are forced to either pay affiliate link commissions to Smile Prep or be unfairly disadvantaged in Smile Prep’s rankings and reviews.” Smile Prep countered by arguing that there is a separation between the editorial staff doing the rankings and review and the staff handling the affiliate relationships and that the affiliate partners have no right to review or approve the site content. Therefore, Smile Prep argued, the content is true editorial and NAD has no…


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