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Impact of Fake Reviews

In addition to relevance, geography and time, ratings and reviews also play key roles in defining search results. Websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor are search engines for a specific category that rely heavily on ratings and reviews. Taking account of this, some businesses try to “buy their way in” to the search results, not by buying ad slots but by faking online reviews.

According to an article from The Economist, Amazon charged lawsuits against 4 sites, including for illegally publishing customer reviews, thereby marring Amazon’s claim to be an impartial resource. The most recent case was against Fiverr, a website in which individuals sell freelance service to write a review for $5 or more. Some businesses ask friends, hire reviewers, or provide discounts in exchange for a glowing review. These inauthentic reviews are problematic because they can “significantly undermine the trust consumers place in Amazon”. For websites that only offer online reviews, it’s worse. In contrast to Amazon, which is an online retail business, all Yelp can offer is its 83 million reviews and if its reviews are deemed unreliable then its service is of zero value.

In a bigger picture, fabricated ratings and reviews have larger impact on search results as general search engines such as Google and Bing interact with the above mentioned review websites. In this course, we learned that websites are ranked by number of links leading to it. These links, or “votes” are also weighted; votes by more reliable sources or pages that have high-quality list are given more weight. Applying the principle, we learned to make the ranking procedure more precise by taking two kinds of quality measures – authority score and hub score. Authority scores reflect the level of endorsement while the hub score serves to evaluate the quality of the list. Big review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor play the powerful hubs with high-value lists. Restaurant or hotel recommendations, based on rankings and reviews, from these sites will act as a strong endorsement. This explains the motivation behind businesses that try to boost their online ratings; for example, an extra star on restaurant’s Yelp rating boosts revenue by 5-9%, according to Michael Luca of Harvard Business School. However, search engines uses constant feedback to modify its search result. If customers mislead by fake rankings and reviews begin to distrust and neglect links from Yelp, then its hub score diminishes. Thus, the review websites must get rid of fake reviews if they wish to retain their quality as  high-value lists.

Although websites try to fight the fake reviewers hard – by pressing legal charges, developing algorithms that look for suspicious wordings, warranting the reviewers as actual customers, and even plating undercover staff – the problem continues to persist. Yelp, Amazon and many other specialized search engines must face the challenge by coming up with a solution to root out deceitful customer reviews.

“Five-star Fakes”


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October 2015