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.