In June 2014, a Web user who went by the name Archie198 posted a glowing five-star review of a brand new health app.
"This app is a breakthrough for blood pressure monitoring," Archie1986 wrote in a post on Apple's App Store. "There are some kinks to work out and you do need to pay close attention to the directions in order to get a successful measurement but all-in-all it’s a breakthrough product....It is also great that the developer is committed to continual improvements."
It turns out that Archie1986 was Ryan Archdeacon, CEO and president of Aura Labs, which sold the blood-pressure-monitoring app, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
This week, the FTC unveiled a complaint alleging that Aura Labs and Archdeacon duped consumers with the testimonial. "That the review was left by the Chief Executive Officer and President of Aura was not disclosed to consumers and would materially affect the weight and credibility consumers assigned to the endorsement," the FTC says in its petition.
The FTC also alleged that Aura Labs' Web site had an endorsement from relatives of the company co-founder.
The positive reviews weren't the only matter the FTC found problematic. The agency also alleged that the app, which sold for $3.99 on the App Store and $4.99 on Google Play, didn't work as well as advertised.
Aura Labs allegedly told consumers that the app would enable people to use their smartphones' camera and other features to accurately measure blood pressure.
"Although Defendants represent that the Instant Blood Pressure App measures blood pressure as accurately as a traditional blood pressure cuff and serves as a replacement for a traditional cuff, in fact, studies demonstrate clinically and statistically significant deviations between the App’s measurements and those from a traditional blood pressure cuff," the FTC said in its complaint.
Aura Labs and Archdeacon agreed to refrain from posting endorsements by people tied to the company -- at least without disclosing the connections. The company agreed it won't promise the app can replace traditional blood pressure measuring techniques.
For its part, Aura Labs points out that it didn't admit wrongdoing or agree to pay a monetary penalty. "AuraLife views the settlement and the understanding that was established during its discussions with FTC staff as a win for the company," the company says.
The FTC isn't the only agency cracking down on questionable endorsements. Earlier this month, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he settled with two companies that allegedly paid for reviews.
MedRite, which operates urgent care centers, allegedly paid "thousands of dollars" to ad companies and freelancers who posted positive reviews on sites like Yelp. "Medrite never required that the reviewers visit its facilities and experience its services, and never required the reviewers to disclose that they were paid for the review," Schneiderman's office said in a statement.
MedRite, which alleged paid for the reviews between 2012 and 2014, agreed to a fine of $100,000, with $50,000 suspended.
Schneiderman's office also targeted car service company Carmel for allegedly offering some consumers $10 coupons in exchange for reviews. Carmel only made the offer to consumers who responded to an email soliciting feedback by saying the service was either "perfect" or "good," according to the Attorney General.
Carmel agreed to "educate the for-hire car transportation industry on false advertising law and online consumer reviews," Schneiderman's office said.