Google Now, Local Business and Anonymous Reviews
With the launch of Google Now for iPhone and iPad, Google has made local business pages more visible – and with it, reviews from anonymous, non-accountable “Google Users”.
Google Now works by accessing the machine’s location and analysing the contents of the person’s Gmail and Google Calendar records as well as their past Google searches.
Examples of the results then given, without the user asking, include:
- Maps suggesting the quickest route home
- Flight departure updates based on bookings made
- Suggested nearby restaurants, museums and shops
- Live sports results based on which teams the user follows
Until now Google Now had been limited to devices running Google’s own Android operating system; most phones don’t have it yet, but as users upgrade phones that will change.
For local businesses, this could be a great development but what’s not so marvellous is when Google foists anonymous negative reviews onto users.
Negative reviews are one thing, but anonymous reviews allow people to say whatever they want, true or false, without being held accountable.
Google’s official policy actually moved away from anonymous reviews when they made the change from Google Places to Google+ Local for business pages. In theory, users are now required to sign in with their Google account before they can post reviews. Better in theory (although there’s nothing to stop someone setting up multiple fake accounts) but the problem is that old anonymous reviews which predate the change still remain on business pages and what is worse, new reviews are still being posted by anonymous users. A user complained about this in a Google help thread and a Google representative admitted the problem, saying “they were looking into it”. However, there has been no indication from Google that they have solved the issue.
Google needs to act now to fix the fault and halt the spread of anonymous comments. Apparently Google does not intend to get rid of old anonymous comments, though they should eventually be pushed down the list by more recent reviews. Let’s hope Google ensures that the comments that replace them at the top are real ones rather than more anonymous fakes.