What if some big restaurant group (that owns a bunch of chains) surreptitiously bought Yelp and used Yelp to steer diners to their restaurant? That would be a shady hustle, right?
Well, it happens all the time in the world of addiction treatment:
As the opioid epidemic continues to spiral, more and more people have reason to seek information about addiction and its consequences. But finding unbiased information is extremely difficult — maybe more so than people realize.
According to an investigation by The Verge, several popular publications covering addiction and treatment double as marketing operations for treatment centers. Rehab Reviews and The Fix are controlled by Cliffside Malibu founder Richard Taite, while Addiction Unscripted — a group promoted by Mark Zuckerberg this summer for its use of Facebook — is owned and staffed by the CEO and marketers of Windward Way, a treatment center in Costa Mesa, California.
All three sites have phone numbers that refer callers to the affiliated rehabs, as well as to partner facilities. On The Fix and Rehab Reviews, there’s a note that the phone number routes you to Service Industries, a “network of commonly owned rehabilitation service providers,” but it doesn’t say which rehabs are in the network, or that Taite owns both the publishers and the providers. Users browsing with an ad blocker will not see the note, just the helpline.
While the connections between the rehabs and the sites are relatively well-known within the industry — Addiction Unscripted even used the Rehab Reviews practice of generating leads for Cliffside Malibu as an example to emulate in an early business plan obtained by The Verge — people reading the sites had no way to know the connection (until disclaimers appeared after The Verge approached the sites for comment).