electronic brain surgery since 2001

Google Maps Reviews are Dead

Remember when Google Maps reviews meant something? For a while it felt like they empowered the “common man”. If you received shitty service or were taken advantage of, you could at least warn your fellow men…

Nowadays the Maps reviews are more and more meaningless. I talked about the fake reviews of my shitty solar company before. Today another thing eroded my trust in the review system.

My girlfriend recently attended a German language course at a language school here in Berlin and had a less than stellar experience. A bit surprising with them having a 4.8 rating on Google Maps. So she left her own 3 star review on Google Maps.

Shortly after she got two replies by email. The first one was from the school's coordinator, apologizing for the experience and promising to improve1):

Thanks for your feedback that I have read just a couple of minutes ago. […] As the coordinator of the German courses I will take care of this.[…] I am very sorry.

So far so good. They watch their reviews and promise to improve, right?

Well, the second mail came from Google. They had received an official complaint about the negative review and a request for removal, citing “BGH, Urt. 01.03.2016, VI ZR 34/15”.

So what is that “BGH Urt.” thing? It refers to a German court judgment which basically forces anyone who displays public reviews to ensure that they came from an actual customer.

So when your company receives a negative review, you can write to Google and say: “hey I don't know this person I don't think this was a genuine review by one of my customers”. And now Google has to prove otherwise or remove the review.

Google will simply forward the complaint2) and ask you to prove you said the truth.

This is of course bullshit. How do you prove you've been at a certain business? Especially when the complaint may be months later? Of course it's doubly bullshit considering that Google knows I've been there. They have my location history!

Now in this specific case, the prove was easy. There was an email by the business itself, matching their records to the review! But guess what? The review has been removed anyway. Removing reviews is simpler and safer for Google than to actually review the complaint with due diligence.

Reviewing felt like an uphill battle against bought reviews already, but now that your reviews might be deleted anyway, why bother anymore?

Oh and of course the current wisdom is: don't trust reviews. Google “business name +reddit” to get real opinions. Well, I tried to share my girlfriend's experience on /r/berlin but the post was removed:

/u/splitbrain, thank you for your contribution. Sadly it was removed due to the following reasons:
We want posts that are about the city in specific and not just “remotely related” to it

At least I can shout into my own blog, eh?

rant, google
Keep in mind that Google does not share reviewer's e-mail addresses, so the coordinator got the email address from their own records using the real name attached to the review
BTW: this complaint was not filed by the language school itself but some intermediary - either their lawyer or, more likely, a “reputation management” company. So yeah, you not only can pay for good reviews you can also pay for the removal of bad ones.