Google Quickly Removes Most Review Spam in Moving Industry – More Remains at Google and Elsewhere

It appears that Google has removed most but not all review spam from the Moishe’s Moving System’s Places page and from many of the other Places pages affected by this scam. On Moishe’s Places page, the spam that remains (besides their response spam) was posted between July 1 and July 3 and seems to still affect 35 or so other moving companies nationwide. Whether Google just removed the spam affecting the most companies or it is still a work in progress is not yet clear. Kudos to Google for moving on this problem.

Here are a few samples of the spam that still remains and is affecting moving companies country wide:

Another interesting sidelight is that Google is not alone in having been hit with this spam. According to Google’s index, Superpages has been seeing this stuff since February, 2010. It is also present in Rateitall.com, Judy’s Book, Yellowbot, InsiderPages, MyMovingReviews and  Kudzu starting last fall and continuing into early this year. While this dreck is visible in all of these sites, it is much less pervasive than at Google. Whether it was already taken down elsewhere or the extortionists are just ramping up their game is not yet clear.

Fake reviews are a problem whether perpetrated by the businesses themselves or by others attempting to gain advantage at the expense of the business. The answer to the problem is not totally clear but a solution probably will need a number of components:

  • More FTC enforcement and education
  • Better filtering algorithms on the part of the search engines
  • Improved and more viable business complaint options, dispute resolution and removal mechanisms.

Google Places is not the only environment in which this abuse is taking place. But Google can and should provide a lead in developing an exemplary review environment that is fair to the public and fair to the businesses being reviewed. Now is the time.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Quickly Removes Most Review Spam in Moving Industry - More Remains at Google and Elsewhere by

20 thoughts on “Google Quickly Removes Most Review Spam in Moving Industry – More Remains at Google and Elsewhere”

  1. I think all three of your suggestions for a solution could help – but I don’t know that it’ll be solved until more social data’s pulled in. Google’s already wanting to link website posts to individual authors – reviews on its own sites can obviously be linked to Google accounts as well.

    If + takes off, this should all be a lot easier for them – just bury anything that’s inflammatory if it’s not from a trusted person. People will surely find way to abuse that too, but something like a trustrank for individuals could make it a lot harder.

  2. The problem here is “people” – and unfortunately – we can’t get rid of all of them (I’ve been asking for years :D).

    The other problem is – the Internet/Web is still a wild, untamed and ungoverned land in many respects.
    Suggestions for it to be policed are refuted (understandable to a degree).

    Google state that they are not wanting to police their indexes either.
    They then incorporate factors for ranking (Places, Products, Web etc.) that are blatantly going to be abused, and have nothing in place ready to handle it.

    Through in that some of the sites G may reference are immature sites that permit Anonymous complaints/ratings/reviews … and you are basically begging for trouble.

    Verified posters.
    Substantiated complaints.

    It’s not that hard, not really.

    Of course – you then get the other end of the issue … such sites cost a lot more to function, and you get companies partnering with Google and you have to pay for services to benefit.
    The upside is that you are less likely to get drive-by’s and scum, the downside is the “great equalizer” for the little businesses ends up out of reach … again.

    Google should be examining it’s reference resources,
    and ensuring that it doesn’t pay too much attention to likely junk sources.
    It should also Not be making a public noise about questionable reviews/ratings – Only those that are verified to some degree.
    (Of course – this will lead to “hire-able reviewers” in the same vein as paid posts for blogs … but it’s better than what we currently have).

  3. Mike: Thanks for the update. Looks like you might have provoked what we call a “quick google hand “job” to fix the problem that was suddenly getting publicity. There have been a lot of those over time.

    I’ve run some minor tests in various ways on Google Reviews. I suspect there are some “minor” filters in place via algo. OTOH, it appears that most of these filters can be easily overcome by dedicated spammers. Then it becomes a game between the professional spammers and the google engineers.

    Its interesting that you noted that this type of spam is widespread on other sites with lesser visibility than google.

    I suspect the professional spammers test this stuff out at various places over time then address google once they have their MO down.

    Maybe the various sites that carry reviews should meet to review best practices to establish an industry response. Possibly if the spammers get snagged by one industry site early on, the other sites that carry reviews can be alerted at an early stage.

  4. @Chris and Autocrat

    Your algo suggestions are good one and both speak to the need for more automated accountability.

    In the end however I feel that both external standards and regulations need to be more strict AND Google needs improved human processes. There is a need to create a more stable and predictable environment. The wooly booly days of early capitalism failed to benefit most because of that craziness and lack of predictability. This current situation is much the same. ALL, including consumers, benefit when there is a more predictable and less volatile environment.

    @Earl

    I think that they should meet and define best practices… ones that guarantee the consumers and the business’s rights and obligations (no right without an companion responsibility). Standards, sharing and communication would benefit all!

  5. I blogged about a different moving company yesterday and most of his reviews were cleaned up too. So it appears Google read both of our stories and cleaned up those 2 at least. Or maybe did a big sweep. THANK YOU GOOGLE!

    Back in June blogged about yet another mover with this same problem and outed some NEG FAKE REVIEW SPAMMERS. Looks like 2 spammers were shut down and 2 still have their reviews. So I think G must be working on it. I’ll out them here again for good measure.

    Darling Dovert This one is unique in that instead of the typical short reviews these are HUGE. However all cut and pasted exact dupes. (We KNOW the algo can pick up dupe content). PLUS all the reviews are for NY movers but the reviews say got a quote for moving from Atlanta to New Mexico. So bit of a red flag there too.

    Sam

    Just checked this moving company’s Place page and much of the spam is cleaned up: Delta Van Lines Inc

    However they still have some. See owner reply to fake reviews.

    “It has been brought to our attention that an individual or a company posted the same negative review to over 400 Moving Companies Nationwide. This is a repeat situation posting the exact same derogatory information in Google Reviews; we recently resolved the past situation with Google Legal Department and other authorities.”

    In my June 16th post and I offered some suggestions for Google re the fake review spam problem. I’ll repost select snippets here since I know Google reads Mike’s blog.

    ——————————————————————-
    Certain types of negative review spam (actually I want to call it FRAUD) could be easily nipped in the bud by Google’s algo. It frustrates me to no end that businesses have to deal with issues like this.

    In this case it appears to me that a company has paid Mechanical Turks or other cheap labor to post HUNDREDS of fake negative reviews for NUMEROUS moving companies all over the US. I think if this company is caught they should be sued. This is criminal!

    The majority of this type of blatant review spam is EASY to catch and eliminate with a Google algo and I think Google should be held accountable for doing something about this!

    There should be stops set up so people can’t post over XX numbers of reviews in one day. YES Google, I know you are trying hard to build up reviews for competitive reasons, but SMB’s livlihoods are at stake here! Plus seriously, a REAL consumer seldom takes time to write legit reviews and does not have time to sit down and do 10 in a row much less 60 in a row unless they have an agenda!

    There should be stops set up so people can’t post multiple reviews at the same time for businesses in cities other than where the reviewer lives. Yes someone could be traveling and review restaurants around the country. But they would not legitimately have reviews for plumbers or movers all over the country – ESPECIALLY numerous posts in close succession.

    There should be stops so people can’t just cut and paste the same reviews over and over.

    If I posted 20 reviews for 20 electricians today who were all in different states, they would obviously be fake. Whether positive or negative reviews, they should be flagged as trying to game the system.

    Maybe a slight exception for restaurants, hotels and entertainment. I can see once in a blue moon a consumer deciding to sit down in one night and write reviews for all the restaurants during their trip across the country last week. But I doubt that happens that often. Real people typically post reviews right after they use the service or eat the food and it’s fresh on their minds. AND they usually use services in their local area. They don’t live in LA and use a plumber in NY.

    Other suggestions in my blog comments from my readers:

    “Google should tell the user right on the review page, that their IP is being traced and that it is against the law to leave fraudulent reviews. Maybe that would deter them.” Linda says: that seems like it would be EASY to implement.

    “I’d say something good would be a “freeze time” after each review of say 1 hour in which a user couldn’t post another one. Actually I think even 10 minutes could do it.”

    “What a crock. If a website can get “red flagged” for a manual review by a search algo, then something can be done about clearly fake places reviews. Google really should do something before the gov’t really starts to make regulating online activities a priority.”

    I realize the algo would not catch ALL review spam, however the suggestions above would catch the majority of these blatant spam cases. PLUS we only made a few suggestions and don’t specialize in reviews. The review spam team at Google could put their heads together, knowing what they know about these fraudsters – and figure out many other safeguards.

    However I fear that somehow Google looks at # of reviews as reward points they need to stack up against Yelp and the rest of their competition. “My review bank is bigger than yours!”

    But to tell the truth I don’t think the safeguards above would cut back on many legitimate reviews. The fake reviews should not be allowed and are hurting small businesses!

    Linda

  6. @Linda
    Thanks for the extensive comments!!!

    Unfortunately it does not appear that the takedown was widespread as there are still over 100 companies with the review: “It really hurt me and I highly recommend that NOBODY DO BUSSINESS WITH THIS COMPANY>>>>>>”

    There are a number of algo based solutions that would improve the filter. I assume, given the number of CS degrees in house at Google, that they have a handle on that and will implement over time…. My thinking is that they don’t need new programming ideas… they need human scale systems to go along with their programming ideas… they particularly need them pending a rollout of those ideas.

  7. Mike -

    When Google’s been accused of bias or favoritism in the search results, they tend to drop back on a “sorry, we don’t have favorites, it’s just the algorithm” response.

    My feeling is they’re going to want to do a similar thing with problems in Places listings and reviews… which indicates keeping human intervention to a minimum (as a bonus, that’s also more efficient for them).

    And yes, relying on the algorithm makes things a bit crazy, but website owners (many of which are no more savvy about seo than small businesses are about Places) have dealt with this for years, and Google’s response seems to be “deal with it” along with providing basic resources and Matt Cutts to help people figure it out.

    The only thing that’s really got me thinking local may be different are Google’s moves to hire salespeople/community managers/etc. But I’m still inclined to think they won’t go into the messy business of manually deciding which reviews/places/etc are legit on a regular basis.

    Your comments seem to indicate you think Google should step up its manual intervention – but do you think they actually will? Or are you suggesting something else?

  8. @Chris

    I think if Google wants to really be a force in Local they have no choice. I think that they recognize this.

    They are gradually doing so…. since last year they have speeded up responses to report a problem on Maps (manual oversight), they attempted to buy Groupon (lots of manual oversight), they added Boost Reps (OMG real people), they added support for ALL adwords and Boost clients and these folks actually can help with Places pages, they have added community managers in a number of cities, they are putting sales staff on the street in most major cities….

    To succeed at local they need to be perceived as providing good service. That can’t be just good service in adwords and not Places… If they want to be perceived as having good service they absolutely MUST have a human response until such time as their algos minimize the need.

    Reviews are an area of particular friction with SMBs. Google would be well served to implement a process that is part algo but defers to humans when necessary…

    Regardless they could even change their algorythmic priorities… for example a Places owner could report a review as bogus, instead of having that input sent into a black hole, Google could hide the review until either algo review and/or human review resolved the issue. They could implement processes that don’t punish every business and my belief is that they will need to do both.

  9. I agree to an extent – they will definitely make the paying customers (businesses) happy if they provide service.

    On the other hand, if they’re just good enough to make consumers happy, businesses will have no other choice, a la Adwords (although granted they do provide some help there, to larger spenders in particular).

    At least I think everyone can agree that things aren’t working as they are right now, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if there seemed to be a human over there helping out a bit more frequently.

  10. Good for Google.

    Thinking over Linda’s suggestions and the situation, it seems to me that a flag could be triggered if the same industry keyword (electrician, for example) appeared in a reviewer profile on more than, say, 5 reviews within, perhaps, a 7 day period. Something like this might work. Though it could get sticky in something like the restaurant industry where I suppose someone might eat at a ‘Chinese Restaurant’ more than 5 times a week (oh, the cholesterol!). But, I bet Google could definitely put something like this in action. Wonder if they are working on something like this.

  11. The real root question is;
    are reviews (spam, fraud or otherwise) really the killer app that everyone thinks they are? If they are the big driver, then make sure that they are good.

    After slogging through Map spam for locksmiths, and putting up with negative reviews from competitors for the last few years, the thought of reviews as they are done currently, just may NOT make sense.

    Anything to force honesty seems like an idea who’s time has come. Fraudulent and negative review spammers are rats who will scatter if they have to work in on open environment. Requiring e-mail addresses, real names with real IP addresses just makes sense.

    Giving up a little privacy and anonymity seems to be a fair price to post your views to the world.

  12. @Glenn
    Increased transparency and Google rewarding that transparency is a critical element of the algorythmic part (along with the many suggestions from David, Linda etc) of reviews. It appears that Google is sloooowly moving in that direction but it is unclear that programmed solutions will ever be up to the task.

    After having watched the wooly booly nature of the internet play out, I don’t think any one entity can create the environment by themselves and there is a need for society (business groups and government) to step in and create guidelines and standards that make sense for all of the players (reviewers, businesses and internet companies) as well.

  13. I’m happy to catch up with this post & I’m happier that the reviews spam is again in the spot light (thanks, Mike!).

    As Glenn noted before, us Locksmiths are dealing with that for couple of years & in a bigger quantities & qualities, unfortunately.
    As i know the ‘spammers evolution’, next thing would be to upload a porn pictures & “Scam Company” signs as picture in Yahoo Local & Google Maps listings for those Moving companies.

    After we’ve addressed this issue to Google & they did nothing, we stopped posting good reviews for ourselves to balance the listing & push the bad ones below. We decided that it’s not worth the efforts. Good for us that back then, locksmiths were in the spot light & that spam stopped.reason- locksmith spammers couldn’t create many listings as they used to, so many of them moved to the Moving industry.

    With reviews spam i agree with all the masters’ suggestions above. I also think that the internet is in the middle of a great shift. A shift from Virtual to Actual (or Physical); Google should treat their users as they’re treating businesses. Gmails accounts should be verified by actual letters, each user should use his ID number (like a NAP for bizs) or something like that. Maybe that’s too much, but otherwise Google will continue to chase after their tail, i think.
    No doubt that the PR damage is HUGE when your business’ listing is being stuffed with so many bad reviews. I have “couple of scars on face” from battling those fights, believe me… so frustrating..

    About the other Local directories, the sheer amount of reviews is a great fuel for them. Their site’s traffic is increasing, their reviews are being pulled by other tiny directories & Google Maps. If Google want, they can (& need) to stop pulling reviews from other directories, till the last ones will fight their spam.

    & i agree with Mike about Google intentions for Local:
    More Money = Local = Higher Friction with the Field = (Much) More Man Power = More Money.

    The age of being completely virtual is about to end sooner or later.

    Yam Regev

  14. My friends had their local listing suspended upon reporting a negative fake spam review. Google was kind enough to reply:

    we do not think the review in question violates Google’s product policies, so we will not be removing the review
    from Google Maps.

    Yet clearly it is a spam review(1 star ratings on five different local roofers on the same day, with the same themed review..cmon):
    http://maps.google.com/maps/user?uid=212205484622315044765&hl=en&gl=US&ved=0CIABEIUK&ei=6Y8kTqnQMfSxiAKB_uTDCA&ptab=1

    Even if Google detects these duplicate spam comments, it will be super easy for competitors to continue to destroy their competition by taking an extra 10 minutes to change up the text a little. If this one passed a manual review, and even attributed to a critical manual review and suspension of the business’s Google Maps listing, then it would seem honest local business are doomed.

    I don’t understand how they can be so critical of business owner’s Google Maps listings, but not look at fake reviews through the same microscope?

  15. @Wes

    They do have a double standard towards businesses and as I point out in this series their process is such that spam reports like this are not given enough weight nor enough transparency nor does google give enough effort to keep this sort of competitor dreck out of the index.

  16. Is there a way to determine whether or not a review is spam by tracking the activities of the person leaving the review, or is it determined by the contents of the reviews themselves?

    Sorry if this seems like a dumb question, but I’m very new to all of this and don’t fully understand how everything works.

  17. @Pamela

    The ways that I spot spam reviews are looking for unusual patterns…
    -certainly the reviewer behavior is one
    –maybe they left 20 bad reviews and only one good one..
    –maybe they are leaving reviews all over the country all at the same time
    –maybe they and several others are all cross reviewing the same companies….
    - a bunch of bad reviews all on one day is another
    - mealy mouthed positive reviews that are all 5 stars are suspect

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