Google reviews, increasingly essential to the online search presence of brand and SMB brick-and-mortars alike, were hit by a massive spam attempt last week. At least 2 million fraudulent reviews were posted, according to ReviewFraud.org.
As shown in the image below, the fake reviews, four stars in this case, appeared under accounts with two-word, apocryphal-seeming names such as “Dashing Fencing” and “Seduce General.” Google is reportedly taking down the fake reviews.
On the ad fraud side, just today, news broke that Google is suspending Chinese app developer Cheetah Mobile for its role in an ecosystem plagued by fraudulent claims vis-à-vis app downloads. This story is part of a relentless glut of similar ones over the past couple of years, as industry watchdogs question whether any of the corporate players in online commerce actually care about the fraud issue. Review fraud is one more head of the ad fraud hydra, which is the logical end of a system too big to fail and too big to monitor for quality.
On Google’s end, the fake reviews revitalize ongoing questions about the power Google affords brick-and-mortar businesses with online presences to monitor user-generated content. The last update to the Google My Business API, released just last week, accorded business owners and managers more control over questions and answers. The ability to take down fraudulent reviews exists, but it’s a multi-step process, and there’s no guarantee that all fraudulent user-generated content will be struck from the Web.
Joe Zappa is Street Fight’s managing editor.