Google “must clamp down” on businesses buying fake reviews to manipulate their online reputations after dozens were found to be paying for star ratings.
According to a new report from consumer watchdog Which?, nearly 50 UK businesses listed on Google have been caught using illicit businesses to purchase five-star reviews.
Its investigation saw Which? create a fake business and employ firms which offered review manipulation services to boost its Google business review rating, which impacts where a business comes in Google Search listings and is visible on Google Maps.
According to its investigation, gaps in Google’s review monitoring has left customers at risk of being misled by businesses, in some cases putting them at considerable financial risk.
Which? found a number of companies offering fake Google reviews in bulk, often via Google’s own search results.
One such site, Reviewr, sold the watchdog’s fake business 20 Google reviews for £108, enabling it to choose the star rating for each review and decide when they should be posted.
By following the accounts which provided the fake reviews, Which? discovered a network of nearly 50 businesses, ranging from stock brokers to bakeries which had reviews from the same Google accounts.
“Businesses exploiting flaws in Google’s review system to rise up the ranks are putting other honest businesses on the back foot and leaving consumers at risk of being misled,” Which? head of home products and services Natalie Hitchins said.
“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, and other sites, must clamp down on and prevent these manipulative practices to ensure that consumers can trust the reviews that they see.”
In response to the report, Google said: “We invest significantly in building technologies and instituting practices that help people find reliable information on Google.
“Our policies clearly state reviews must be based on real experiences and information, and we closely monitor 24/7 for fraudulent content, using a combination of people and technology.
“When we find scammers trying to mislead people, we take swift action ranging from content removal to account suspension and even litigation.”