5 ways businesses fake reviews – and get away with it

With third-party services offering to write fraudulent reviews for a fee, all reviews found on the Internet should be met with skepticism.

An estimated one-third of all online reviews are fake, according to Bing Liu, a data-mining specialist based out of University of Illinois, Chicago, in a New York Times article.

Fake online reviews

Image Credits: Wiki Commons

Fake reviews are essentially ad copy disguised as word-of-mouth testimony. They may be written by the manufacturer, a third-party service specializing in false testimonials or customers getting a kickback in exchange for a five-star review.

Here are five ways businesses get away with publishing fake reviews:

1. Lax laws – Even though the Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that financial conflicts of interests should be made clear by the reviewer, they are minimally enforced.

This month, Edmunds, a major online car retailer, filed a lawsuit against Humankind, a Texas-based company that specialized in writing fake reviews. Edmunds hopes that the Texas court will find Humankind engaged in fraud and trademark infringement by violating the terms found on the Edmunds’ website, writes Skift.com.

2. Poor computer detection Yelp employs both user-based and algorithm-based methods to combat fake feedback – with mixed success. “Our job is to find and filter out fake reviews,” Vince Sollitto, Yelp’s media rep, told the New York Times, “At the same time we let our audience know that this system isn’t perfect. Some legitimate content might get filtered and some illegitimate content might sneak through. We’re working hard at it. It’s a tough one.”

Cornell University has developed Review Skeptic, an algorithmic approach to teasing out fake reviews with 90 percent accuracy, according to its website. The service is offered for entertainment purposes only.

3. Poor human detectionTips for screening fake reviews may include checking the reviewer’s history for past usage and diversity, and avoiding reviews with excessively hyperbolized language, suggests the Harvard Business School’s blog.

But real reviews may be filtered out by human error.

“I have over 2,000 patients, and every other week one of them writes a positive review on Yelp and none of them sticks!” California-based dentist Michael Abaian told the New York Times, “Businesses are at the mercy of Yelp.”

4. Reader ignorance – Todd Rutherford, who earned up to $28,000 a month penning “artificially embellished reviews,” is now a skeptic when it comes to online reviews:  “When there are 20 positive [online reviews] and one negative, I’m going to go with the negative. I’m jaded,” he told the New York Times.

Rutherford founded GettingBookReviews.com, a now-defunct Web service that penned  over 4,000 reviews-for-pay, before his Google advertising account was suspended, and Amazon started deleting the majority of his reviews.

5. Rigorous review standards stunt user engagement Review sites like Amazon, Yelp, and TripAdvisor may have a vested interest in protecting the integrity of their reviews, but establishing stricter guidelines would inevitably slow user engagement.

Falsified reviews may be more rampant among websites that allow anyone to post (like TripAdvisor), compared to sites like Expedia, which only allows reviews from customers after they’ve purchased the service, a recent empirical study has found.

“I would like to think that, in 2013, most people know that not everything you see on the Internet is true,” Cheryl Harrison, President of public relations agency Speech Bubble, told Skift.com.

Raquel Cool
Raquel Cool is a Silicon Valley-based writer who covers various technology topics, ranging from information technology to health and life science. Raquel’s work has been published by the National Post, The Bold Italic, Hyphen Magazine and ANewDomain.net.
Raquel Cool
Tags: Business,Social Media