Reviews And Regulating

Recently, more and more social platforms such as Urbanspoon and Yelp are based on public reviews, which may provide benefits to those businesses for example restaurants. However, these benefits increasingly generate new sorts of “fraud” by publishing untruth reviews. In general, some of them are the owner or relatives who posting positive feedbacks, also there are some cases that pre-employees or competitors are trying to mislead customers with those negative opinions. As far as to go, there are some businesses are keen to pay existing users of the platform to write a good script for them. As the result, many people don’t trust these websites as they are not reliable.

So, how to regulate these misbehaviour and keeps the data clean and tidy?


Yelp, for example, previously introduced a sting operation to catch those businesses who were trying to manipulate their reviews in October 2012. And they did catch 8 companies. Over the next three months, they tried to using “consumer alert” within these fault businesses’ Yelp profile page (said “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.”) to get a more intensive regulation result. But, as there is high volume of fake reviews, the first eight businesses may just be treated as “a sample”, according to Mr Singley of Yelp.

 And will this sting work?

Well, it is believed that, the public shaming could increase the risk and the cost of fake reviews, therefore the prevalence will be deducted (Myle Ott, a doctoral candidate in computer science at Cornell). Based on these, public notices like what Yelp did may expose those companies and let others retrain themselves. However, limitations generate from high volume of data which make it more difficult and slow to censor.


Urbanspoon, however, did an opposite way of “manipulate” customers’ comments by deleting those negative disclosures and blocking users account without notification but keeping fake positive feedbacks from the owners. Even though Urbanspoon claimed that its operational policies prevent fraudulent reviews, and it has invested time building proprietary technology that identifies system fraud and gaming. Many people are still not convinced. This leads more and more customers think Urbanspoon is untrustworthy which potentially make the site lose their forces in the market. ACCC starts to investigate whether these sites need to be regulated by legislation to protect customers and offer them more reliable reviews.


Discussions of improvement list some possibilities. They could be possible by letting all reviews be tracking available, or each user who starting a new review has to provide a receipt as evidence. However, this still leaves some grey areas in the reviewing sites and such companies have to focus more on moderation.


Thank you for reading.




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17 thoughts on “Reviews And Regulating

  1. In both these cases it seems that the misrepresented or fraudulent reviews had to be policed by the moderators themselves: it was not possible for the system to ‘iron out’ these mistakes. But, isn’t the whole point of the content being filtered through these recommendations services–in part–guaranteed by the merits of popularity; shouldn’t Yelp and Urbanspoon be able to absorb outlier and fake reviews anyway? If this mislabelled or misrepresented data runs a very real risk of polluting that system, it stands to reason to assume that the standards of quality are *not* best represented by the aggregated opinions of a large number of people. Rather, if intervention is necessary to maintain the stability of the system, then the authoritative opinion of experts–in this case the moderators–is fundamental to the operation of these sites. If those experts have to intervene anyway to ‘fix’ the polluted anomalies in the system, what was the point of trusting the users in the first place?

    • Hi Michael, thanks for your reply. Yes, it is not possible for the system to clean up all misrepresented or fraudulent reviews, however, at least it can play a vital role in the moderation process. Even though the operator starts to regulate feedbacks, I believe these sites still rely on trusting users as users are the only contributors in purpose. However, the truth is numerous unhealthy competitions between some businesses pose a threat to the quality of the reviews, which may have a detrimental effect to these reviewing websites. That is the point from Yelp to manipulate reviews.

      And from the point of ACCC, I believe they are just trying to protect customers. Because unhealthy competitions provide unreliable and untruth feedback of the services and foods, which will mislead customers. 🙂

  2. Hi Chuan

    Nice blog post on Yelp and Ubranspoon. I think we need a much mature platform for restaurants something like for hotels reviews. What makes the reviews decent there, is that only people who made a booking can provide feedback on their experience. Reviews on restaurants should be tied with customers who dined there and successful platforms should look into ways to make this happen !

    • Hi Jaifar,

      Yes, I totally agree with you. I personally enjoy the, it is a great platform. I think a possible problem for these sites to ask for evidence of “experience” is the ethical issue. You see some of the users like to be anonymous, and exposure to the public might let them feel uncomfortable?

      • Hi Chuan,

        Thank you for your response. The anonymity of user feedback can be dealt with using technology. Users don’t have to reveal their true identities, but for example, only users who have been to a hotel can get a link in their email for feedback. Another example can be the use of feedback-tokens which can be given once you dine in a restaurant which allows you to leave your opinion anonymously.


  3. Hi Chuan

    Thank you for your insightful post. I agree with you, Michael – if platforms that are built on user reviews and popularity, such as Yelp and Urbanspoon, require this degree of intervention and moderation, it almost seems counterproductive to give the users this level of trust in the first place. Perhaps these platforms went wrong by not having a greater degree of regulation for users from the start – look at sites like Facebook that automatically monitor user behaviours to track and trace any suspicious activity. This kind of automated regulation is absolutely necessary in today’s Web 2.0.

    There has been a lot of controversy particularly surrounding Yelp in recent years. At the moment, there is court case going on in America to protect the identities of seven reviewers who posted negative reviews about a Carpet Cleaning business, who believes the comments are defamatory. Check out the article – it’s very interesting:

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for your share. Yelp as the largest reviewing sites based in America does provide lots of controversial examples. For example, whether the feedback of anonymous should be tracked and traced; how to deal with unhealthy competition; and how to balance the trust and monitoring of users etc. Solutions are necessary for such websites to survive in a long term.

  4. Hello Chuan

    Very informative post. I am totally agree with you that there are always have a grey area exist in the reviews site and it is quite difficult to maintain.

    Everyone from the internet are able to make a fraud review if they want to, the problem is people may have no idea how to judge the reliability of the review, especially in the restaurant reviews site, because restaurant reviews are always have positive or negative reviews, and reviewer often judge by their personal perception.

    From my perspective. It is important to judge reviewer’s profile in the reviews site, because it is a effective way to know the reliability of the review. We can check their recent post or reputation to judge the reliability.

    Maybe I am not quite familiar with UrbanSpoon but I think Trip advisor( done an awesome job in managing user behaviour. User are able to judge the reliability of the view by checking the reputation of reviewer. For example, reviews published by Senior Reviewer or Senior contributor are tend to be more trustworthy. Therefore, reputation is very important, that is the reason why Michelin is considered to be the most reputable,reliable and trustworthy restaurant guide in the world. Besides, any troll post will be regularly managed by TripAdvisor’s moderator.

    Hope my information is helpful:)

    I will check out your blog every now and then

    Keep it up

    Jason Hsiao

    • Hey Jason,

      Thank you for this informative feedback. Yes, I think the users should have the sence of judgment about the reliability. However, it sometimes waste of time and let the customers lose their faith to such inefficient services in a long run. That’s the resean why I think moderation is kind of important and urgent to such platforms, especially for the most contreversial one in Au – ie. Urbanspoon.


  5. Hello, Chuan.
    Thank you for your nice post. I totally agree with you. There are always have unacceptable behaviors exist in online community and it is quite difficult to regulate these behaviors. According to Ng (2011), an online community is based on members collaborate and interact with each other, sharing ideas and views. In short, these recommendations services are established in users contributions, which was the advantage of these recommendations services. Therefore, I don’t think that excessive intervention is a good idea for these services.

    In my point, the better way is that users can choose what they trust. They can review publishers’ recent post to judge the reliability. In addition, it can also build a reputation system for voting by users. Besides, any troll post will be managed by administrator. Therefore, users can based on this system to filter the unuseful recommendation.

    Anyway, you really did a great job. I will keep a watchful eye on your further posting.


    • Yes. Reputation raking may increase the reliability. However, it could be also manipulated by the owner themselves. For example, customer could say the positive review is fraud, at the same time business owners could also pretend to be customers say the negatives are untruth. In a long run, customers could lose their faith/ loyalty to such services. Hence I think moderation is important and urgent.

  6. Hi there,

    Thank you for this interesting blog post. To be honest it is really annoying thing specially Urbanspoon app it happened to my one i was feeling Italian food and I searched restaurants through this app and I went to an Italian restaurant based on the review is a great place, once I got there had my dinner it was totally different to what I read, the service was bad, the food is not as I expected based on the reviews. It was my last time using the app to find a good food place. Do you think having an identity check of fake account could limit this kind of behaviour?

    Thank you again 🙂

    • Hi Mj,
      I am disappointed to Urbanspoon as well. For your question, I do think identity check could limit fake reviews from single IP address, but it may not reduce the “fake reviews dealing” (as I mentioned business owners pay real platform users to review positively). To solve this, I think depth polices and procedures should be introduced, such as the evidence of dinning experience. But, it may still have limitations from ethical perspective.

      Thank you.

  7. It seems that most people agree that Yelp faces problems with fake reviews. It is unfortunate that a lot of this seems to come from the ease of creating false account and using the anonymity of the internet to their advantage. It is because of this that I don’t think business will stop trying to buy reviews; they will simply find different and more creative ways of doing it or getting around it. In Yelp’s defense, they do not accuse business of faking reviews unless there is a substantial amount of evidence, according to Chris Crum. This shows that they are willing to put their trust in users first, possibly to not risk alienating anyone by accusing an innocent user of being bought by a business.

    Crum, C. (2014). Just how bad is Yelp’s fake review problem? WebProNews. Retrieved from

  8. I always find it interesting when a company is solely responsible for regulating against unwanted advertising. I have personally experienced, via blogging, the flaws of this approach. Using filters that detect patterns of speech or making blanket rules against linking to certain companies is never going to be the best method for regulating behaviour. In these circumstances, there is always the possibility that a user is within their rights to post what they are posting, based on the companies codes of behaviour, and when a company targets an innocent user they risk pushing that user away from the service. I think user input and detection is useful to complement a company’s attempt to regulate this behaviour. If another user can report them then there is a back-up system. However maybe the best method is to provide assistance to users who wish to advertise. By trying to give all users an equal footing, perhaps deviant behaviour could be lessened. There is obviously a desire of certain users to enhance their profile – companies such as urbanspoon could try and provide that for the user and take a constructive approach to regulating behaviour.

  9. Pingback: Review Sites and Reputation Management | Marketing Class


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