Universal and abcom.ie - Scalable ShillingI post to a popular Irish bulletin board, Boards.ie. In recent months, like many high-profile forums, it has had a big problem with shilling of Universal Music products. Shilling is the act of pretending to be a customer, and giving a positive testimonial. In Universal's case, the shilling is paid. Article by a Boards admin on the subject here. So, giant company participating in dubious advertising tactic.
On the other end of the scale, we have abcom.ie (page rel="nofollow"ed, as I know some of you do worry about this sort of thing, even though in practice my blog has minimal influence). abcom.ie is a web design outfit who will provide frankly (in my opinion) pathetic four-page websites for the princely sum of 500euro. Now, someone on boards asked about web design. A poster posted back saying that he'd recommend abcom because they did such a good job of designing winedirect2u.com (guess what tag?). When someone posted that that was less than impressive for 500euro, he posted a little defence of it; this aroused my suspicions a bit. So, I had a look. The registrant info for that two pages is the same, the email addresses given on the pages are ian@something in both cases, and the telephone numbers given on the pages are the same. The poster in question had only four posts; one of the others was advertising a naturopath's site which, on further inspection, turns out to be another abcom creation. Naughty. User banned and posts deleted now, though :)
For more fun with boards scammers/shills, see here for the adventures of perfumeireland.com, a particularly disgusting example of the genre.
The thing is, many people are prepared to regard this sort of thing as harmless. It isn't. When someone recommends a product to me on the internet, I would hope that they are giving an honest recommendation and not lying about their connection to the company involved. There's nothing wrong with advertising, as long as it's not disguised as the opinions of real people. Hopefully, Universal in particular will find that this sort of thing damages their image more than it gains them sales. It is, after all, but one small step from email spam.