Yelp Is Publicly Shaming Businesses That Incentivize Good Reviews

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Yelp has a new way to deal with dodgy reviews.
Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

At its best, the internet allows people to share their experiences with businesses and products — and lets people considering doing the same explore a vast array of data to inform their decision. Unfortunately, that is indeed a best-case scenario — and the question of how accurate some online reviews are has endured for almost as long as people have been posting reviews online.

For almost as long as it’s been in operation, Yelp has been dealing with the challenges of filtering out troublesome reviews — including reviews that were paid for by a business looking to game the system. And now, Yelp has figured out a new technique for reducing paid reviews: publicly shaming the companies that engage in this practice.

That’s the gist of a new article by Dianne de Guzman at Eater. Yelp now maintains a page dedicated to businesses that offer incentives for people to give them a glowing review on Yelp. A doughnut shop in Santa Ana, CA was flagged with an image offering customers a deal: give the shop a five-star review, get a free doughnut in exchange.

Eateries aren’t the only businesses called out by Yelp for engaging in this kind of behavior. An apartment complex also urged tenants to leave reviews on Yelp or similar services; doing so would qualify them for a raffle where they could get $100 deducted from their rent that month.

Yelp also flagged another category of businesses — namely, cases where “our systems detect a large number of positive reviews coming from a single IP address, or reviews from users who may be connected to a group that coordinates incentivized reviews.”

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This process seems to have struck a fine balance between something that’s eminently understandable — businesses wanting to be reviewed on Yelp and similar services — and those same businesses trying to influence the system by incentivizing positive reviews. (The same thing has come up in discussions of product reviews on Amazon.) As de Guzman points out at Eater, the rise of AI systems makes for a new way to game these systems — and explains why Yelp is pushing back to this extent.


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