Google Places review spam is neither something new, nor surprising for anyone. However, cases proceed intriguing me and they become from bad to worse day after day, and Google seems unable to deal with the task of being the protector of good over evil. In fact, the problems with spam/scam are so many that I am wondering if I should start a regular rubric on that topic.
Today’s article features the torment of 128 Michigan photographers (and a few other businesses) being “hit” by negative one star ratings. The issue was raised on the Google Places Help Forum, where it was explained that a guy, named “john” is writing negative ratings for “local photography studios and other businesses”. Notice that these are rating, not reviews, i.e. there is no text, but only the star rating. And this is making the problem even more complicated as there is actually no comment to reply to.
All the ratings were written on 11 April 2011, more than 3 months ago, and Google hasn’t removed any of them neither manually, nor automatically via some sort of spam protection (talk about efficiency). The 1-star rated places are photographers and photo shops nearby Flint, MI.
Among the overall number of 129 ratings that user “john” has written, there are only 128 1-star, and one glowing 5-star - for Photos By Amanda. I suppose all the victims of the spam ratings figured that out too, and it fired back, as currently Amanda’s listing has two 1-star reviews and two 1-star ratings. Everything is complied in one of them:
Amanda, you and you and your friend, John, call yourself professionals but you are not. You have been caught by everyone here… giving your competition “1 star poor reviews”. You should be embarressed by what you have done but in reality people are smarter than you think. This game/prank you tried to pull is a reflection on your poor business practices.
The office of Amanda is located in Linden, MI, a few miles away from Flint and all the businesses that got the 1-star ratings.
If you dig deeper, you will find something even more revealing - user “Amanda” wrote a 5-star review (+gave it the Best Ever medal) for Photos by Amanda, saying:
Great customer service. With unique and lovely pictures.
While writing reviews for your own business does not seem to be a violation of the Google review posting rules, writing 20 negative ratings for direct competitors sure is. Victims of user “Amanda”‘s wrath were photographers in Linden and Fenton, Michigan. And again, all these were rated on 11 April 2011. Seems like that was the “28th day” for Amanda.
Last, but not least, user Joshua J who brought this problem to the Google Places forum said that the business/location are also fake. This is unproven and as I was unable to find any additional information for “Photos By Amanda” in Linden, MY I cannot confirm this information. What I found is a blog post from 24 April 2011 from a guy, whose wife got two of these spammy ratings. He then received emails forwarded to him showing an actual correspondence of another victim - Mark, with Amanda. You can read the whole conversation on his blog.
This person disregarded all the ethical rules of fair competition, but I think the biggest shame is for Google, as they failed to filter out this obvious spam and caused immense troubles, headaches and probably loss of business, for many photographers, by allowing their reputation to be lowered in a dishonest way.
I will follow up the topic.