June 24, 2021

CBC Investigation: “Black Market in Google Reviews Means You Can’t Believe Everything You Read”

From the CBC:

The incident is just one example of a widespread problem that’s plaguing Google’s popular star-rating system — a growing black market in which some companies pay for fake positive reviews, while others are seemingly being extorted by web firms who post negative comments then propose their “review-fixing” services to get them taken down.

Using data gathering and analysis techniques, a CBC News investigation has catalogued just a portion of one fake review network: 1,279 businesses across North America connected by 208 fake accounts that posted 3,574 fake reviews.

To the average consumer scrolling through Google reviews for a local business, those accounts and postings would appear normal. The profiles have pictures and often have 15 or more reviews. But a closer look reveals that the faces in the photos are often poached from other parts of the internet, and the content they post follows a suspiciously set pattern.

For instance, two apparently unrelated Google reviewers patronized the same pizza restaurant in Toronto, tutoring club in Delaware, counselling centre in Michigan, as well as outlets of the same national lawn care and home security firms in far flung parts of the United States.

And while it’s possible that two people could have coincidentally left five-star reviews for the same businesses scattered around North America, it’s implausible that of 71 reviewers for a downtown Toronto pizzeria, 50 would also have used that same lawn care company and 20 bought a wig from a single store in Vaughan, Ont.

Read the Complete Report (approx. 2500 words)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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