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A New Scam - Bad Reviews in Google Maps
And then a phone call...
webdude




msg:4206375
 1:59 pm on Sep 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

This has happened to two companies that I work for in the past 6 months. Wondering if anyone else has seen the same...

A bunch of negative reviews are posted in Google Maps for a particular company. About a month after the posts, the company gets a call and is told that the negative reviews can be removed for a fee... typically $400. We have been flaging the reviews, tey it seems to take google forever to even take a look.

 

anallawalla




msg:4206605
 10:23 pm on Sep 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

From Google's perspective, how can they judge whether the review is genuine or fake? A sting would seem ideal, but I doubt if any law enforcement agency would be interested.

LifeinAsia




msg:4206611
 10:41 pm on Sep 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

Depending on your jurisdiction, it may be worth reporting it to the police. It sounds like either extortion/coercion (they wrote the reviews and will remove them if you pay the fee) or fraud (they have nothing to do with the reviews and will do absolutely nothing if you pay the fee). Either way, it's a crime (or at least attempted crime).

AnkitMaheshwari




msg:4207425
 10:58 am on Sep 27, 2010 (gmt 0)

The best option is to get more reviews on your business so the older once get down/out of main listing page.
I have tried flagging a lot of review on my sites but have failed. Most of these reviews are marketing of products and services completely unrelated to ours (viagra and other stupid stuff)....

webdude




msg:4210061
 4:46 pm on Oct 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

One of the businesses has 30 reviews, all of them are positive except for 3 that are really raunchy. I mean positive as in...

Excellent (subject) Therapy!
Amazing care and wonderful service
WOW OH WOW
Finally getting some (subject) relief!
I can't wait to go back!
The best (subject) I've ever had!
A neighborhood gem!
Soooo nice!

But then negative as in...

Rude Rude Rude
Very dissapointed
Keep your (subject) and money away

I just noticed that all the great reviews show external links at the bottom of each review, like DEX, citysearch, etc. In other words, Google is pulling these out of other review pages.

The three negative reviews show the maps.google.com as the referral, so I would assume these were Google Users who logged in and created the review on Google Maps itself.

I wish I knew more of how this works.

john_k




msg:4210087
 5:44 pm on Oct 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

If the reviewer(s) have never done any business with your client, then in addition to extortion, it seems like the reviews are libelous. You might want to have your clients check with an attorney.

webdude




msg:4210146
 7:56 pm on Oct 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

I agree with all... but where do I start. Kind of hard with usernames on Google such as AK or jhg45. Do you think Google will give up information on how to track these users down? I doubt it. When you click on the highlighted username, all I get is that it is a single post from this user (no other reviews or posts). Kind of like they joined Google, wrote the review and that was the last you ever heard from them.

chewy




msg:4210164
 8:32 pm on Oct 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

This must be studied, documented and codified -

This is a huge problem that is about to happen or is already happening.

Google will need to come up with some sort of strategy to resolve this issue. We need to put the pressure on somehow.

To date, Google appears to be more about stimulating the process of getting ANY reviews and not allowing for reasonable disputes against REALLY BAD (read illegal, immoral, unethical) reviews.

No one seems to have any real solution to this problem - we have not heard that any lawyers have had any success at removing libelous / illegal or inappropriate reviews.

If you have evidence that Google is actually policing reviews as they should in a timely fashion, please share your stories and best practices here - or link to where they are discussed.

MrHard




msg:4210263
 12:14 am on Oct 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

Bite the bullet and don't pay. They were most likely made by the company calling you, or their associates.

tangor




msg:4210340
 6:26 am on Oct 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

Sad state of affairs as it will take an attorney (and funds) to go after Google to reveal identity (and funds) and when they don't take them to court (and funds) and about a year later end in draw and (funds) of which you have already run out of and even if you win, your (funds) are gone and no recoup possible.

What you ASK google to do is NOT ALLOW REVIEWS, in fact demand it... put it in SNAIL MAIL WRITING and OPT OUT of such reviews and that any and all "current" reviews are removed. THAT YOU CAN WIN without a lot of (funds) expended.

And if they don't you'll have a real legal case you CAN WIN.

Some times SILENCE is golden. Make sure google gets that. After all, tell the truth, you DID NOT ASK TO BE INCLUDED IN GOOGLE MAPS did you? Doubt few ever have, but if you did, DID YOU ASK FOR REVIEWS? Bet you didn't.

Don't go supine and take it. Don't fight the bad reviews, fight ALL REVIEWS. Can't win the former but you can with the latter.

londrum




msg:4210391
 10:06 am on Oct 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

that's like writing to every newspaper and radio station and asking them not to mention your business in case someone gives a bad review.
it's like writing to amazon demanding that they switch off reviews every time you publish a book.
they are obviously not going to do it.

chewy




msg:4210421
 1:23 pm on Oct 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

There has to be precedents somewhere.

The level of discourse for WJS and NYT (when they allow comments) can be substantially enlightening, and some mods of certain BBS type systems (WebmasterWorld as an outstanding example) also really seem to know what they are doing.

Surely there are other examples.

Surely, Google isn't that numb to these issues.

Surely this can be made to work?

Google has opened a massive can of worms here and something has got to give. And soon.

BT and WebmasterWorld Senior Mods - can anything be done at a higher level to bring this to the fore?

UserFriendly




msg:4210449
 3:05 pm on Oct 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

Definitely don't pay their ransom. If you do, you'll end up on a sucker list that they sell to other criminals, and your troubles will likely multiply.

As for bad reviews, there are so few reviews worth paying attention to online that I suspect the smart public are already bored of paying them any attention. I do like Amazon's "Real Name" reviews, because at least some effort has gone into validating the user's identity. But, generally, online reviews by non-established users are worth zero.

commanderW




msg:4210553
 7:55 pm on Oct 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

Yelp was accused of using a similar business model in the San Francisco Bay Area early last year. I had many businesses mentioning to me that after they had gotten reviewed by 'Yelpers', people had come around asking them to pay several hundred dollars a month for advertising, and when they declined, the merchants claimed that all the bad reviews suddenly got moved to the top. (curiously, the law suite against them claimed the exact opposite, that they moved the good reviews to the bottom, and differed on several other points, but what I'm saying here is right from the merchants mouths to me in face to face conversation.). Yelp however, was never accused of actually offering to remove bad reviews in exchange for anything.

There is no doubt that in your case, this is actual extortion. Brazenly offering to take the reviews off for money is proof of guilt, as far as I am concerned.

But concerning the proliferation of user generated content and bad reviews in general, it is new territory. Freedom of speech is at issue as well. And privacy. Remember, if you were to force Google to censor users based on complaints lodged by the business being criticized, and to give their personal info to that business or the courts so they can sue the critisizers for what they say, then someday the very same thing thing could be done to you, and for a reason you would not think particularly justifiable. If you can sue Google or Yelp because someone said something negative and untrue about your business on their forums, then Google or Yelp could sue users who write negative and "untrue" criticisms of Google or Yelp.

It's too bad that people are such undiscerning sheep. One bad review can kill a really great movie. I've seen it. Indeed there are mobs of people who only like and do what other people tell them to do. What they think they see others liking or doing. There are people who won't order a sandwich unless someone else says it's "popular".

Therefore, unscrupulous people take advantage of this process and spread what is essentially digital gossip. Maybe there are some text-book solutions to gossip. If you are truly concerned about these "opinions" and the impact on business, then you might have to hire a professional B.S. artist of your own ; )

Robert Charlton




msg:4210586
 11:12 pm on Oct 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

Some discussion from last year about Yelp here....

Yelp Makes Changes To Address Criticism
http://www.webmasterworld.com/community_building/4110863.htm
[webmasterworld.com...]

There's no question in my mind that there were rogue reviews posted on Yelp. I haven't seen such reviews myself on Google, but I have seen lots of other deliberate sabotage on Place Pages. Anonymous "user" reviews are a can of worms everywhere, and there's no reason that Google should be immune.

While Google, at least to a limited degree, is aware of the problem of negative reviews, they are putting a lot on a small business owner, many of whom are not web savvy and may not even be aware that Place Pages exist... but then so is every other site that allows unmoderated reviews.

Some related discussion here...

Google Now Lets You Respond To Reviews On Google Places
http://www.webmasterworld.com/local_search/4182050.htm
[webmasterworld.com...]

MWpro




msg:4210646
 6:14 am on Oct 3, 2010 (gmt 0)

These sites give too much power to the loud, irrational minority.

Sgt_Kickaxe




msg:4210674
 8:31 am on Oct 3, 2010 (gmt 0)

Charging money to remove bad reviews? That's the definition of corrupt.

James2




msg:4211143
 4:42 pm on Oct 4, 2010 (gmt 0)

Sounds very shady indeed.

Google the companies that called you and look for reviews on them.

UserFriendly




msg:4211705
 3:29 pm on Oct 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

These sites give too much power to the loud, irrational minority.


Yeah, but so do governments.

Bewenched




msg:4212101
 4:36 am on Oct 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

I've wondered when this type of thing would become a problem.

Honestly I'm surprised that Google even allows any reviews for a company unless the user has used Google checkout. Else anyone via a proxy could flame their competitors.

earlpearl




msg:4216497
 12:37 am on Oct 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

Customer service for problems associated with Google Places is very poor. There is a way to possibly get some attention, though. Go into the Google Places Forum and add a message about this issue, specifically that negative reviews were placed followed by an extortion offer. Extortion is against the law.

Find threads in the Google Places forum where there are discussions about problems with attack reviews. Publish in those threads. Find posts in the forum where people have complained about the same thing. Contact those posters and see if they'll join you in a thread.

When an issue becomes large within the Google Places Forum it attracts the attention of the personnel that police it and tends to have a better chance at getting an action by Google. Above all, good luck.

chewy




msg:4216869
 7:45 pm on Oct 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

@earlperl - thanks - please, anybody with either good luck or bad luck - please post your progress here so we can learn from one-another.

We don't have the scam problem, we just have an extremely bad review that has already ruined 1 career, cost a ton of legal dollars, and may cause a good business to go bankrupt - all because of a disgruntled employee (or customer or both) who chooses to name names, report rumors as facts, and who doesn't even know how to spell.

If we knew who wrote the review, we would have an air tight case of defamation, with significant losses associated with it.

A lawyer would have a field day with our particular case.

more info on my case: [webmasterworld.com...]

earlpearl




msg:4216917
 9:41 pm on Oct 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

Reviews on the web are a sticky widget, IMHO. Good reviews are a blessing and powerful. They can lead to more sales. Bad reviews are a curse.

Frankly, the proliferation of reviews forces businesses to provide better service or suffer the consequences.

As to reviews in Google or elsewhere:

I have 1 business that I'm 99% sure received 3 bad reviews that were planted by a competitor. Of course I can't prove it 100% but I did argue the case w/ two websites that each carried 1 of the bad reviews. One site ultimately dropped it after a lot of back and forth; one site more or less buried the bad review under verifiable good reviews. I haven't even tried to get Google to react. They are so notoriously non responsive, it hasn't been worth the time IMHO.

But here is one way where they do respond to complaints: If the situation merits it, contact Google legal. They do respond to issues.

I also think that if an issue might violate one of the various Google Places or Adwords significant guidelines ie (I'd consider potential trademark issues significant) Google might respond. On other guidelines they seem to be lax.

I'd put a caveat on all of it, based on my and others' experiences: Google might respond.

btw: I don't have an advanced webmasterworld membership so I can't access the private discussion

anallawalla




msg:4217800
 1:28 am on Oct 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

Chewy, any update on your case?

Silvery




msg:4218257
 3:06 pm on Oct 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

From a number of us local search marketers who trade info with each other, we believe that Google is indeed paying attention to both listings and reviews complaints. However, we theorize that they seem to use an algorithm to "triage" the listing, so listings with more complaints get addressed first.

It appears that possibly "super-reviewers" get preference and/or listings with more reports of issues from a handful of users may get bumped to the top of the queue.

For issues like this one where they won't see any evidence of issues, they could choose to do nothing. If the reports of extortionary demands increase, they might be able to coordinate which accounts are coming up frequently, and see enough pattern to suspend them all. I found such a pattern of fraudulent reviews recently and reported it to them -- very transparent and easy to identify.

chewy




msg:4219649
 7:14 am on Oct 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

#annawalla, no further progress.

The executive named in this disparaging review is now no longer with the company and legal settlements are in place - however they did not include anything about this review - just agreements to not disparage or communicate about the situation except in professional circles.

so now, does the individual or the company go after Google?

I don't expect answers - just reporting further complicating factors.

One resource that I will check out - perhaps the mods will allow the link - is this:

[rexxfield.com...]


I cannot vouch for them as I have not used them, nor do I work for them in any way. But I WILL be calling them to see what I can do as no attorneys or other dedicated professional has stepped forward *(yet)* from here to assist.

this is a big problem and I'm sure I'm not the first one to come up with this.

I may also call a a local law school and or bar association referral service to see if I can get some basic blocking and tackling in place.

chewy




msg:4220361
 2:14 pm on Oct 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Good news?

So this headline does look like some progress has been made (and I'm surprised I don't see it here...)

in theory, this is precedent and should open this up and Google will have to respond in a more general fashion, possibly even world wide, right?

Court to Google: Give woman ID of online commenter
New Yorker woman sued to find out who is behind disparaging comments

MORE:

[msnbc.msn.com...]

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