Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Mon Jan 13 2014 11:45:05

There May Be No Such Thing as Anonymous Reviews

By: Ina Steiner

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This article in the San Francisco Chronicle outlines a case in which a Virginia court required Yelp to hand over the names of anonymous reviewers ("Court tells Yelp it must reveal some critics' identities"). Yelp is a self-described online urban city guide that "helps people find cool places to eat, shop, drink, relax and play, based on the informed opinions of a vibrant and active community of locals in the know."

Interestingly on the Yelp website it says in the FAQs section, "What if I had a bad experience? Can I say something negative?" with the answer, "We like to hear about the good, the bad, and everything in between. Be sure to include all the relevant facts and details, and don't embellish your story for effect. We are big believers in freedom of speech, but beware the legal consequences if you post false information." It also links to the wikipedia entry for the term defamation.

Online sellers have a unique perspective on the issue of anonymous posts and reviews. On the one hand, if they go to a discussion board or review site to criticize a service or marketplace they use, they expect to be able to post their opinions without fear of retribution by a company on which their business may still depend.

On the other hand, they may not be happy about customers who write negative reviews about them as an online merchant. How many sellers believe eBay should allow buyers to leave Detailed Seller Ratings anonymously?

The Chronicle quotes Matt Zimmerman, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
 
"The prospect of having to hire a lawyer to preserve one's online anonymity could silence legitimate criticism, said Zimmerman, who adds that the Internet commentary landscape would change greatly if that standard were widely applied. "People will feel a bit cautious about criticizing companies, especially those that are well funded and have a history of litigation," he said."

Should you be able to leave a negative review anonymously or not? Or does it depend on which hat you're wearing at the moment, the reviewer or the reviewee?




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This user has validated their user name. by: Puck

Mon Jan 13 12:29:18 2014

I read the Yelp reviews on a certain liquor store.

A guy gave them a one star stating that the bottle of scotch he bought there got him drunk...

Probably an eBay buyer or one in the making.

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by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jan 13 12:54:00 2014

I don't believe ANY eBay review should be anonymous--good or bad. People can air their opinions so long as they own them.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
Web Site

Mon Jan 13 12:54:34 2014

Yes, there is always the risk that an unscrupulous company with deep pockets may abuse the legal process and bury you in lawyers over some subjective negative comment.

I comment under my real name, and I think that ultimately people should be prepared to take responsibility for their comments—just get your facts straight in the first place ...

Whatever, nothing can alter the fact that it can be demonstrated that eBay is a knowing, calculated, facilitator of massive, endemic, auction shill bidding fraud on the consumers of the world … http://bit.ly/11F2eas

See, just make sure you have the facts to objectively support your assertion …

eBay / PayPal / Donahoe: Dead Men Walking ...

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This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous Annie

Mon Jan 13 13:17:21 2014

This is why I cringe whenever I see one of those TV commercials for ''Angie's List''.

Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that ordinary everyday happy customers are motivated enough to sing-praises on review sites like Yelp or Angie's List.

Only the dissatisfied ones are motivated enough to tell the world about what an awful experience they had. This causes the illusion that a particular merchant is absolutely dreadful, when the reality is something entirely different.

Furthermore... even when the Yelp or Angie's List complainer has their issue solved by the merchant, I wonder how often the customer RETURNS with a follow-up report.

I never see things like: ''It was all a misunderstanding, my fault entirely.'' or ''The owner attended to me personally and hand-delivered a replacement widget.''

Or something like: ''I really should have telephoned the store FIRST before rushing to complain on Yelp. If only I had let them KNOW about the problem they could have taken care of it for me right away. I jumped the gun. This really is a GREAT business after all.''

It's just as bad as eBay's system.

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by: Steevo This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jan 13 13:32:30 2014

Ya know, I post many reviews on Yelp.  The vast majority are positive, mostly overwhelmingly positive.  ''This is a great place''.

Someone has to do something fairly outrageous to get me to post a negative Yelp review.  I have posted some, sure. But they are calm, collected and factual. ''They worked on my car, afterward I had to find someone who could fix it right''.

I have had responses from the company reviewed, but never any threats at all. Usually ''Give us another try''.

Of course I am very careful what I say if I post a negative Yelp review.  

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by: Mr. Me This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jan 13 14:38:10 2014

OF Course online reviews are suspect ..... lots of folks tooting their own horn and ragging on competitors.

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by: brokentoys19 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jan 13 14:55:35 2014

There's a whole nother side of the story too. Fake reviews and astroturfing.

http://www.wnyc.org/story/ag-schneiderman-operati
on-clean-turf/

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Mon Jan 13 15:06:42 2014

I suppose the same could be true about what's posted here about what we write about.

Ebay legal, however, is smart enough to recognize that that the defense to alleged defamation is truth.

99% of what's posted here about the Evil empire is true.

Contrast this with the often untrue, non factual, distorted star ratings ebay's growing base of semi literate, often dishonest divas and parolees leave for sellers.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
Web Site

Mon Jan 13 17:02:03 2014

"99% of what's posted here about the Evil empire is true" and in the public interest.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Mon Jan 13 17:12:15 2014

On Ebay, we already have our buyer's information (how else can we ship products to them?) and we have their identity associated with the feedback rating, so knowing who is leaving us DSRs really isn't a big stretch, despite what Ebay claims. Besides, DSRs are supposed to help us improve our service, but how can we do that if we can't relate a rating to a transaction? If someone gives you a 1 for your item description, how are you supposed to determine which description was considered problematic by the buyer? It doesn't help sellers at all and is far too easy to abuse to be of much value.

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This user has validated their user name. by: NaruMessenger
Web Site

Mon Jan 13 17:30:06 2014

Watching a movie on cable tv the other night and this commercial for brand.com came on: http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7fCg/brand-com-reputation

It down right says they replace troll reviews with positive content to make your business look good (in so many words.)

But the NY AG busted several companies for doing the same exact thing. Another blogger said businesses have the right to advertise that way. Stinks to high hell in my personal opinion!

So someone hires shills to go around and bash business reviews, then brand.com or who knows how many others come in and run a bot posting a slew of positive reviews for $$!

Bottom line is (in my opinion) a reviewer should be required to prove they did business with a company before leaving a review period.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: iheartjacksparrow

Mon Jan 13 18:20:58 2014

I was watching some show (forget which) and a business owner said Yelp contacted him and for a price would remove all the negative feedback.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: NaruMessenger
Web Site

Mon Jan 13 18:34:20 2014

Shill a company's reviews with a blast of negatives, then contact the owner for a $ee will remove them.

Just who can you trust online with monkey business like that going on? I hope anyone doing that gets busted and serves a nice prison sentence!

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Mon Jan 13 23:06:13 2014

@ jacksparrow

"...a business owner said Yelp contacted him and for a price would remove all the negative feedback..."

Ebay is missing a revenue generating opportunity here for not charging the Big Boxes for removing the bad feedback (override) and low star ratings they now do for free.

The latter is an FTC violation if ebay won't do this for all sellers.

But then what we can expect from a CEO whose role model was undoubtedly John Gotti?

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by: Xander This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jan 13 23:49:14 2014

The truth is you can not place 100% trust in on-line reviews any more than reviews written in pamphlets or advertisements.

Reviews are subject to misleading and fictitious entries making them unreliable with no way to validate.

We turned off our website reviews two years ago. Not because we received bad comments but mostly because we were constantly getting spam entries from Russia. Got tired of having to clean up the spam all the time so we turned the reviews off.

It's been said- those who are unhappy with a transaction are 10 times more likely to complain than those who. I also believe some people hide behind anonymous reviews.
Even if the reviewer is authentic, if they don't contact the business for resolve, entering a bad review will not help correct any problems with the transaction nor will it help the business evolve for the better. Just like DSR's on ebay, cloaked ratings do nothing positive for buyer or seller.

We include a business card with the owners name, phone number and email address and we don't have caller ID so all calls get answered. We're here to make good on mistakes or problems we create. We do what we can to help the customers who reach out to us; even those who created their own problems- sometimes we'll offer them discounts and help them complete their projects with our guidance.

When they contact us it gives us a chance to turn an unhappy customer into a repeat buyer and sends a message in the form of positive word of mouth. At the very least, we convert a negative experience into a positive one. With online reviews, the opportunity to convert can be difficult at best.

Like my mother used to say ''You have to stand up and face the music''

Our business philosophy is to make ourselves available to our customers by phone and email.

Those who don't have the courage or skills to make contact when they are dissatisfied have their own issues to work through.

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by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jan 14 00:26:22 2014

@MING---Hey at least John Gotti LOOKED the part---The Ho just looks--cheesy.  

If Gotti said "Jump"  You would def ask HOW HIGH.

And the anon DSR ratings are just a clever excuse to deny sellers any chance of getting ahead and "earning"  discounts.

I too past ---or I should say--I USED to post on Yelp--- as our area of the world has few reviewers.  But--I post MOSTLY (99%) positive factual reviews.  I posted ONE negative for a place we had been to that had the WAIT STAFF making RACIST COMMENTS.  I did not get hysterical--I reported WHAT sort of things were said.  We had this happen TWICE at the SAME place and another friend happened to be at the same place earlier one of the days we were there and heard the SAME sort of comments!  

And another poster whose family was  the TARGET of some of these comments posted!  Guess what?  BOTH of our comments were HIDDEN.  Did you know--there is a function on YELP of FILTERED REVIEWS---look waaaay down at the bottom of the page and click.  You have to RE-SIGN IN so they are keeping track of who goes and looks at these.  

Now every once in a while they will toss in a positive review---I guess they can't get away with ONLY "filtering"  the BAD reviews.

I wrote and asked them WHY they would do this and got back a load of bull crap.  

So now I don't TRUST YELP at all.

As far as the Big Box Stores getting "Get Out Of Jail Free" cards---well if you think they DON'T I have a bridge you might be interested in--and SURELY some sort of "consideration"  is used to facilitate their getting squeaky clean.  

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by: Tornad0sRul This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jan 14 00:46:48 2014

Reviewers should be allowed to voice their opinion anonymously. Especially regarding restaurants where disgruntled or unhappy food servers are notorious for spitting in the food they are serving. For instance I order "to go" a lot in my small community and if I left a bad review on Yelp with my real name it would be easy for that restaurant to pinpoint the writer because I use my credit card. And then maybe they would spit in my food or even worse, they sometimes put laxative in the food.

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by: JoyfulA This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jan 14 07:41:24 2014

Annie, I'm not a member of Angie's list and don't know quite how it works, but my husband is a member, and twice Angie's list has called him and asked (interrogated! like 10 to 15 minutes) him about a business he's used.

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by: JoyfulA This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jan 14 07:45:54 2014

And online reviews are suspect. During the crash, I was looking high and low for writing and editing work, and a lot of the low work is writing online reviews.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Tue Jan 14 08:11:18 2014

Review sites can be helpful - we use Urbanspoon to find restaurants and  have found so many wonderful tiny ''hole in the wall'' restaurants that we never would have known about without this site.


There is a need for a factual, non-combative, unemotional, easy to use  review model for everyday use.

It should NOT interfere with visibility, nor be used for manipulation or punishment, just exist as a useful guide for buyers and self-review for sellers.  No damaging stealth factor such as the potential contradiction of feedback and DSRs. Just one level for everyday reviews.


But, at a higher level  - extremely bad reviews that could cause real monetary damage to the seller/business -  maybe should NOT be anonymous:

In detailing a very bad and noteworthy experience, attaching a real name to stand behind the words usually adds weight to what is said. If you are going to potentially put someone out of business, do it in the open.

By the same token, if that same name is attached to a disproportionate amount of very bad reviews,  that would also be telling.


btw…. As mentioned by another poster: if I knew someone spit in my food at a restaurant, you can bet I would not be going back. And trust me, the owner would know my real name.  Anonymity would not ever be a consideration.

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