Fake Reviews? Negative Reputation Mgt? Google Once Again Caught Flat Footed in the Review Space

There was an interesting article on CBC Canada this past week and it  encapsulates the range of problems that Google has not yet confronted in the review space- including but not limited to buying reviews, negative SEO reviews, review pile ons etc etc etc.:

Kensington Market restaurant inundated with hundreds of 5-star reviews accused of buying them

From the article:

Hundreds of five-star reviews pouring in over a week may seem like a dream come true for a restaurant. But for the owner of Top Gun Steak and Burger in Toronto’s Kensington Market, it’s becoming a nightmare.

“In the morning I was so excited when I saw those reviews … I’m very, very stressed now,” owner Ibrahim Nehme told CBC Toronto.

The reviews started coming in about a week ago on the restaurant’s Google profile and ramped up on Friday. There are hundreds of mostly one-sentence raves by users who have only reviewed the single restaurant, and whose profiles have little to no information about the user behind them.

A few hours later, the restaurant added a comment under many of the reviews saying, “Our success also has attracted the unwanted attention of our competitors who are using fake accounts to consistently create false reviews.”

Who knows what the truth of the situation is in Toronto. I am sure that there is plenty of fault to go around on the ground. Ultimately though the fault and the responsibility lies with Google. And their approach to reviews.

In other fake review cases Google is quite frequently quoted as saying: We’re always working on new and better ways to fight these issues and keep our information up to date.  We use automated systems to detect for spam and fraud, but we tend not to share details behind our processes so as not to tip off spammers or others with bad intent.

I am sure that they would come up with an equally inane response in this situation. This sort of mealy mouthed company line we often get is typical of Google’s big data approach to a hyper local issues. IE Google’s thinking that amongst the millions of reviews that they receive these fake are but a small percentage.

And because it is a free product, and because they have blanket federal immunity for these sorts of abuses  Google chooses (yes chooses) to not really deal with their review issues both in terms of improving the automation of for review spam detection OR putting humans onto the pitch to deal with the edge cases that their automation seems incapable of handling.

How hard would it be, for example, to set flags that when review volume suddenly surges that the reviews are temporarily quarantined until human review can ascertain their validity?

My point is that the credibility of Google reviews is dying one fake review at a time as case after case of these abuses are raised in the media. Big data has trouble capturing the concept of human trust, a very fragile thing. And it would be a crime if the benefit of reviews were permanently tainted by Google’s lack of action.





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6 thoughts on “Fake Reviews? Negative Reputation Mgt? Google Once Again Caught Flat Footed in the Review Space”

  1. Out of curiosity do you think that currently there is better policing of fake reviews at other review sites such as yelp, TripAdvisor, or any large review site?

    Is any site doing a reputable job at policing fake reviews? Currently? Or at any period of time?

  2. GMB spam, fake reviews, and PBN’s are big issues Google will need to address ‘correctly’… sooner than later. Credibility is at stake here. If someone fills this space with more ‘trusted’ info; that can’t be good for Google.

  3. Humans are actually less capable of spotting fake reviews than computers are, according to studies out of Cornell and University of Chicago. The best way to curb phony reviews is to verify the identity of the reviewer and confirm that they’ve indeed been a customer of the business being reviewed. The more closed and controlled the system is, the better. Open Table’s review system is probably the closest thing to perfect that I’m aware of. You’re only asked to write a review if the restaurant confirms that you followed through with your Open Table reservation.

    1. @Ben:

      Good point. Funny, I scarcely use OpenTable to make a reservation and have not gotten a request for a review in a long time. I actually work through OT a lot, but then when making the reservation always call the restaurant direct.

      I’m cheap and trying to save the restaurants $$. Reserve direct on OT and they charge the restaurant $1/head. But actually they only charge $0.25/head if you use OT off the restaurant’s website.

      I think I’ll start doing that. 4 peeps reservation made by visiting the restaurant only costs them $1 total, and if its one of those fancy smancy expensive restaurants that is not a bad hit.

      Then I’ll start adding to OT reviews. 😀

      BTW: OT carries TONS of restaurant reviews. It swallows them up. Secondly it seems to me OT reviews generate somewhat higher average scores than Yelp or google. Not sure about those numbers, but as I go through a ton of restaurant reviews, it seems to me they come in w/overall better ratings than other big sites.

      1. Thanks for your thought leadership, Dave. We could use more voices like yours in The Review Society, a membership organization dedicated to advancing the science, ethics, and business of online reviews. I established it in December 2017, and am currently trying to gather up all #ReviewGeeks to give us a dedicated place to explore the topic of online reviews. Free membership.

  4. “We use automated systems to detect for spam and fraud, but we tend not to share details behind our processes so as not to tip off spammers or others with bad intent.” – I wish they’d throw a half dozen actual humans towards this issue. Start in, say, Orange County, CA and go from there. 🙂

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