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Can good online reviews be bought?

August 24, 2011 | 10:51 am

Yelp-395 TripAdvisor Does that bistro down the street get an awful lot of online love for its superior service, delectable menu and charming location? Those glowing reports might be the result of reviewers-for-hire, according to several recent reports.

Review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp wield substantial influence over indecisive consumers, a reality not lost on restaurants, hotels and even merchants on eager to attract clientele.

Enter the bustling business of reviewing for profit, where fake evaluators offer to post positive recommendations online for a fee.

Freelance writers are hired by “review factories” to churn out five-star love-fests, according to a recent New York Times report.

There’s so much “deceptive opinion spam” -- fictitious opinions designed to seem authentic -- that a group of Cornell researchers crafted a computer algorithm to root out the fakes. (Apparently, words including “I” and “my” show up a lot in the sham reviews.)

Though many customers seem resigned to online ratings inflation, several threads on Yelp’s talk forums feature users griping about sketchy review practices.

Among them: businesses offering gifts in exchange for positive reviews, managers creating Yelp accounts just to promote their company and cookie-cutter opining applied to multiple establishments.


A field guide to Yelp reviewers

Software aims to spot fake online hotel reviews

-- Tiffany Hsu