The gaming of online reviews by estate agents and other businesses is under scrutiny once more following a critical report by consumer organisation Which?.
Its investigators found that paying for Google online reviews via third-party platforms has now infiltrated Google’s reviews system ‘at scale’.
As well as setting up its own Google account under a false name to ‘buy’ glowing reviews of its fake business, Which? says it found 45 companies who all shared the same ‘positive reviewer’.
These included an unnamed London estate agency but also a wide range of other business types and locations.
The Which? report will be more grist to the mill for the Competition and Markets Authority which is already investigating the problem of fake reviews.
“Natalie Hitchins (pictured), Head of Home Products and Services at Which?, says: “Businesses exploiting flaws in Google’s review system to rise up the ranks are putting honest businesses on the back foot and leaving consumers at risk of being misled.
“The regulator must stamp out this harmful behaviour and hold sites to account if they fail to protect their users, otherwise the government must urgently increase websites’ legal responsibilities for misleading content on their platforms.”
Google says: “When we find scammers trying to mislead people, we take swift action ranging from content removal to account suspension and even litigation.”
Google is not alone in being gamed by sophisticated fake reviewers. Separate investigations by The Times and the BBC three years ago accused both Purplebricks and Foxtons of gaming another reviews site, Trustpilot by both acquiring large numbers of positive reviews over a short period and also being able to remove critical ratings from their streams.
Read the Which report summary.