Google Reviews

By Mark Nuyens
5 min. read🧠 Business

Recently, an incident caught my attention, which, in my opinion, highlights the fragile nature of online reviewing platforms and the tough balancing act they must maintain. A restaurant found itself the target of a coordinated attack on Google Reviews, where numerous negative reviews, all falsely claiming poor food and service quality, were posted. The situation escalated to the point where Google intervened to remove the reviews. While a seemingly happy ending, this incident uncovers a critical vulnerability of Google's reviewing platform, which can be exploited to manipulate a business's online reputation.

Google Reviews was designed to provide an accessible platform for consumers to share their experiences of a product or service. But allowing anyone to leave a review, whether they've interacted with the business or not, invites potential misuse. Both ends of the spectrum are problematic: businesses can falsely inflate their reputation by buying positive reviews, while competitors or antagonists can post negative reviews to harm a business's reputation.

While the solution might seem simple – allow businesses to manually remove questionable reviews – this creates another problem. If businesses can delete negative reviews at will, the platform's credibility takes a hit, as it would inevitably skew business impressions. And while flagging suspicious reviews is an option, it's now easier than ever to craft convincing fake reviews, thanks to AI tools like ChatGPT.

So, we find ourselves in a tricky situation, where Google’s open reviewing platform, designed to democratize feedback, can be easily manipulated. The crux of this issue lies in the interplay between the democratization of feedback, Google’s priorities, consumer priorities, and the businesses that rely on Google scores to attract customers. This is a delicate balancing act, and any solutions will need to balance trust and technology carefully.

I experienced a similar challenge on a smaller scale when I launched my own review platform, Pro Con. The platform’s design made it harder to exploit, as it limited the length of reviews and did not immediately display new reviews at the top. Users could upvote reviews, which then influenced their position and impact on the total score. While not perfect, this layered approach made it harder for bad actors to significantly affect a business's score or online reputation.

In my view, the solution to Google's problem lies in human verification. Businesses could allow customers to write a review through a one-time link or QR code provided at the point of purchase. This direct link to Google's reviewing platform would bypass the need for a Google account, as the customer is already authorized by the business. The benefits to the business are evident, but for Google, this added barrier could decrease business participation and overall profits.

Google's approach to this issue may not be evident, but one thing is clear: they are grappling with maintaining their reputation in the face of rising competition and changing consumer attitudes. With increasing reliance on AI tools like ChatGPT for information and the pressure to succeed with products like Chromebook, Google must prove that it can ensure consumer safety and provide reliable software solutions.

All I can say is, Google seems to be in a tough spot right now, and I wouldn't want to trade places with them. While they may weather this storm with the help of Bard, in the end it's pretty much up to the consumers and how they value their online interactions.