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Business reviews on Google easily abused by “trolls”

Nicholas L. M. Allen

Nov 30, 2022

Google reviews have the potential to become a way for “trolling” attacks to take place on a Google business page.

The built-in review system developed by Google operates with little oversight and makes it difficult for the business owner to fight back against allegations on the platform. “Trolling” is internet slang for when a person (troll) intentionally tries to instigate conflict or arguments online in a social community.

Attempts by a company can be in vain, as there are few options for them to get these attacks taken down. Google has made it difficult for any business, even after claiming ownership, to manage the content that is shown on their Google business page. Suggested edits by malicious users can be put up without the consent of the business, even the name of the business.

There are pitfalls when such an open platform becomes a tool to abuse a business, especially when many of the reviews go against the guidelines Google themselves has put in place. This includes “content that is not based on a real experience and does not accurately represent the location or product in question” and “false or misleading accounts of the description or quality of a good or service.” Under the policy it said, “unsubstantiated allegations of unethical behavior” are a part of their prohibited content. Even so, in Google’s review removal policy they admit, “There's no reliable way to tell who's right about a particular customer experience.”

Google reviews are also able to be made without verification of the user, with reviews posted by brand new accounts with no verification being a real possibility. There are even a few websites offering negative Google reviews for purchase, sites like this make it easier for a person to avoid taking on the full responsibility for the attacks.

Precon, an independent, precast concrete company, operating primarily in Alberta, has recently experienced a string of these negative attacks online, hoping that their story can serve as a warning to others. There have been ongoing attacks on their Google business profile since October of this year.  

The attack, believed to be by a former employee, has caused trouble for Precon since they first became aware of it.

Precon General Manager of customers, Cody Kibala said, “They're trolling us and they're affecting our vendors and reaching out to other people to really complicate our lives.”

He added culture is important at Precon and they work very hard towards treating people fairly with respect and a focus on safety. What the company found, with Google in particular, is that you can put whatever you want and there is little you can do to get it removed as the company.  

“At the start you're thinking it's unfair and it's unjust and they should just take it down based on your word,” said Scott Cunningham, president of Precon, “Of course, they don't operate that way so we use the tools that Google has, which is we can report [the review].”

Several of the reviews have been left with names that are untraceable and unidentifiable. One of the reviewers has only a few reviews, one being a review of Precon claiming to be an employee and others in New York and the Netherlands.

Yet another part of the attacks has been on Reddit from a user called QuantityThis873. They have posted mainly negative rhetoric about Precon attacking management for posting their own Google Reviews. In a post to the unofficial subreddit for Lethbridge, the user said, “The office people get treated like royalty along with the weird bald [manager].” Attempts to reach out to the user resulted in minor dialogue before they blocked the account made to contact them.

When the negative reviews were first noticed, they originally reacted by showing interest in what happened and treating them as if they were valid inquiries. This later changed as the reviews kept coming in, to a strategy of reporting each review as a “trolling” effort.

“How we responded to the reviews was [to] make sure that people understand the good reviews are from legitimate people, no one in management has written any of those reviews,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham added he was grateful for the quantity of people that dropped everything to help the company during this attack on their business but wishes there was an option to turn reviews off completely for their business page on Google, avoiding this issue entirely.

“I also think that new Google accounts shouldn't be able to post reviews. You should have to have your account up for a period of time before you're even able to [post],” Cunningham said.

They also encouraged any other business dealing with a similar attack to reach out and speak with them about what they have learned during the process of combating these negative attacks.

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