Because consumers widely rely on online reviews for goods and services, small businesses have to be concerned about their online reputation. “Online reputation management” companies employ various techniques to rehabilitate a client’s online reputation, including responding to negative comments, pushing down the websites containing the negative reviews in search results, and even de-indexing (removing the website from search-engine results). But how much does online reputation cost? According to Solvera Group, Inc.—a self-proclaimed “reputation management” company—somewhere between $5,000 and $12,000. Solvera claimed that it could suppress negative reviews and comments by removing them from search-engine results.
Removing comments from the Internet is a difficult process because of First Amendment protections and the anonymity of many consumers, yet Solvera found an easier path. After potential clients contact Solvera to have negative comments about them suppressed, they are presented with several options. One strategy offered is removing the website from search-engine results. Once the client chooses that option, Solvera begins the quest for de-indexing. First, Solvera’s hired blogger in California allegedly would write a comment or review on the website to be de-indexed. Later, lawyers hired by Solvera would bring an action against an individual who claims to have written the defamatory review. Next, the defendant would come to an agreement with the plaintiff (which is not actually the client yet has a very similar name) and this agreement, signed by the judge, would allow Solvera to make Google de-index the review website.
As brilliant as the scheme might seem, the Texas Attorney General says it’s illegal. The Attorney General claims that Solvera violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by abusing the legal system to deceive Harris County district-court judges with its defamation lawsuits. In particular, the Attorney General’s suit alleges that Solvera violated DTPA §17.46(a) and (b)—engaging in false, misleading, and deceptive acts and practices in the course of trade and commerce. The Attorney General seeks a permanent injunction and restoration of all the money and property taken by means of unlawful acts or practices.
One website where reviews were posted has also commenced an action against Solvera. Consumer Opinion LLC has filed a complaint in California, naming as defendants entities and individuals believed to have used schemes similar to Solvera’s, as well as the individuals who assisted them. This lawsuit was initially filed last year in a federal court, but the court lacked jurisdiction. Moreover, in a blog post published in March 2016 on the website run by Consumer Opinion LLC, the author identified a pattern in some de-indexing cases, alleging a potential abuse of the court system. The ability to identify the person who wrote the “defamatory” review and receive a fully executed affidavit from that person within days after filing the lawsuit seemed quite suspicious to the author.
For more on the DTPA, check out O’Connor’s Texas Causes of Action.
 Plaintiff’s Original Petition at 4, Texas v. Solvera Grp. Inc., No. 2017-56634 (Tex.Dist.Ct.2017) (8-24-17).
 Id. at 4-5.
 Id. at 6.
 Eugene Volokh, Solvera Group, Accused by Texas AG of Masterminding Fake-Defendant Lawsuits, Now Being Sued By Consumer Opinion over California Lawsuits, Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2017.
 Dark Side of Online Reputation Management (ORM), Pissed Consumer, Mar. 17, 2016.
 Plaintiff’s Original Petition, at 6.
 Id. at 7.
 Id. at 6-7.
 Id. at 8-9.
 AG Paxton Files Suit Against ‘Reputation Management’ Company, Attorney General of Texas, Sept. 11, 2017.
 Plaintiff’s Original Petition, at 9-10.
 Id. at 10, 14.
 Volokh, Solvera Group Now Being Sued by Consumer Opinion over California Lawsuits.
 Complaint, Consumer Opinion LLC v. ZSC, Inc. et al. (Contra Costa Cty. Superior Ct.2017) (9-7-17).
 Eugene Volokh, Lawsuit Against Lawyers Who Allegedly Filed Improper Lawsuits Aimed at Getting Internet Criticism Deindexed by Google, Washington Post, Oct. 31, 2016.
 See Dark Side of Online Reputation Management (ORM).