The matter of privacy, and to what extent it is being abused by Google, has been the hot topic of the last months, and specifically since “Search Plus Your World” was launched. However, it hasn’t really been tackled much in direct relation to the world of local search, but after Google Places became Google+ Local, some legitimate concerns arose.
In order to write a review on a business’s Google+ Local page, you’d need to have a Google+ profile. In order to create a Google+ profile, you’d need to use your real name. There is no way to stay anonymous when posting a review currently. Here is the official explanation by Google:
“Any reviews you write or scores that you provide will be attributed to your Google+ name and visible publicly. Public scores and reviews makes it possible for us to provide high-quality information for all users, and provide you with personalized suggestions based on your preferences.”
Many have expressed concerns about how users would accept this and how online reputation management would become even more difficult for the honest businesses, while the spammers would still thrive. Here are a few threads related to the problem. One of the users summarizes it well:
“I like reviewing, but I don’t want every Tom, Dick and Jane on the web to see me and my review. I’d be better with a nickname and you could see all my nick name’s comments with out having to worry about harassment from a disgruntled vendor. A place I do business would treat me worse if I really express my feelings. Same things with contractors, they know where you live and did a terrible job. I’d leave a note to warn others, but don’t want that contractor coming and robbing me or harming my pets.”
Some industries would definitely be hit more significantly than others. According to Jeffrey Segal of Medical Justice, seconded by Mike Wilton of Plastic Surgery Studios, doctors (as well as clinics, psychologists, dentists, chiropractors, nursing homes, pharmacies, health insurance companies, and others) would not even be able to reply to negative reviews any more as this would go against the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Additionally, I cannot imagine how a criminal, or divorce, or DUI, or bankruptcy attorney would get legitimate reviews now that their clients would have to post their real names publicly.
Lastly, I am not completely convinced with the reasons of Google to require a person’s name in order to provide “personalized suggestions” to them and other users. Is it that if John C. liked a local restaurant, then it might be very possible that John B. and John D. would also like it, thus Google would make recommendations based on their names? I’d argue that this rule would not only reduce the overall review flow, but also bias the reviews. I’d not be surprised if large part of the reviews written after the launch of Google+ Local are positive. My personal opinion – a lame and unnecessary way to fight spam.