Category Archives: review sites

Google Now and Local Businesses

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 nowGoogle 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.


Computer Program to Spot Fake Reviews?

Computer Program to Spot Fake Reviews?

Acknowledgment to Cornell University ChronicleOnline

As you probably know, opinion and review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are littered with fake reviews.  Review sites are regular targets for phony reviews – both positive reviews created by owners and managers and negative reviews to denigrate competitors.

Although many people claim they can spot fakes, recent research by Cornell University showed that in reality we are very poor at differentiating true from false reviews – human judgment proved no better than tossing a coin.

However, the same Cornell researchers have developed a computer program that is much better than humans at differentiating true from false reviews.

The work was reported in June 2011 at the Association for Computational Linguistics in Portland, Ore., by Claire Cardie, professor of computer science, Jeff Hancock, associate professor of communication, and graduate studentsYejin Choi and Myle Ott.

The team employed a group of people to deliberately write 400 false positive reviews of 20 Chicago hotels. These were compared with an equal number of genuine positive reviews for the same hotels.

Human judges – volunteer Cornell undergraduates – scored no better than chance in identifying fake reviews. They did not even agree on which reviews they thought were false, reinforcing that they were doing no better than chance.

According to the research team,  humans suffer from a “truth bias,” and assume reviews to be true until they find evidence to the contrary.  However, when people are trained at detecting deception they tend to become overly sceptical, swinging to far the other way and reporting deception too often, but still scoring no better than chance at telling true from false.

Computer analysis based on the text of known true and false reviews revealed, amongst other things, that truthful hotel reviews were more likely to use concrete words relating to the hotel, like “bathroom,” “check-in” or “price.”  Fakes included more context setting words like “vacation,” “business trip” or “my husband.”

Using this and other text analyses as algorithms, the researchers trained a computer on a set of true and false reviews, then tested it against the rest of the database.  By combining keyword analysis with the ways certain words were combined in pairs deceptive reviews were identified with 90% percent accuracy by the computer program.

Further research needs to be undertaken to see if a similar analysis can be equally successful at spotting true and false negative reviews.

This sort of software might be used by review sites as a “first-round filter,” Ott suggested. If, say, one particular hotel gets a lot of reviews that score as deceptive, the site should investigate further. 

While this is the first study of its kind, and there’s a lot more to be done, I think our approach will eventually help review sites identify and eliminate these fraudulent reviews.

Unfortunately, once everyone knows what the computer program looks for, the fake review writer will also know how to trick it.  Back to square one …

Fake Tripadvisor Reviewers To Be “Named and Shamed”

Online Reviewers Told : “Remove Fake Reviews or Face Consequences”

Individuals who place fake, fraudulent reviews on TripAdvisor and other user-generated review sites are to be named and shamed.

Fake Reviewers Warned

Those who have posted fake accommodation reviews will be given two-weeks to remove them or face being exposed in public and subsequent legal action.

Kwikchex, the online reputation-management company, has announced that next month it will publish a list of “thousands” of reviewers it suspects of posting fraudulent and defamatory comments.

I’ll be interested to see what form the “Name and Shame” list of alleged fake reviewers takes – TripAdvisor reviewers are anonymous.

Read the full article in the Telegraph Online:

Fake Tripadvisor reviewers face legal action

GUESTSCAN – “unwanted guest” database or unwanted “guest database”?

GUESTSCAN  – “unwanted guest” database or unwanted “guest database”?

A British entrepreneur has set up a website which he says is aimed at protecting small hotels from “nightmare guests“. has been developed over the last 2 years by Neil Campbell, but has only been operating for about a week.

Mr Campbell said it had taken almost two years to ensure the website complied with the Data Protection Act and any potential litigation that could ensue.

His idea is that owners share information about dodgy guests via the Guestscan website.  According to the Guestscan website nobody can view the database, but members are able to check if a specific person is on the list. Where a person appears on the database full details will be supplied to the member. It’s then up to the member to decide whether or not to take the booking.

There are several categories of behaviour that Guestscan says will qualify for a guest to be reported to the database; these specifically include:

  • Non-payment
  • Damage to property
  • Abusive behaviour towards staff
  • Abusive behaviour towards other guests
  • Excessive noise
  • Extra unauthorised guests
  • Theft
  • Fraud

Guestscan claims that every report of  guest misbehaviour is checked by them before being added to the database.

To comply with the Data Protection Act, guests must be informed if they are reported to the database.  If the member does not do this  themselves then will do so.  Part of the membership conditions includes a condition that members must indemnify Guestscan for the consequences of malicious reporting.

On the front page of the Guestscan website are what appear to be endorsements David Weston of the Bed & Breakfast Association, and Martin Sachs of the English Association of Self Catering Operators.

Putting aside what the service costs, is THERE REALLY ANY NEED FOR SOMETHING LIKE THIS?