May 29, 2020
Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back: Our response
We give full credit to Joe Lycett for his humorous prank recently aired on Channel 4.
Creating a fake company and getting some fake reviews about their fake product (a spaghetti colander disguised as a pricey water filtration system) was pretty funny. Of course, we took down every fake review, put a public consumer warning on the company’s page and closed it to new reviews a few months ago when we learned of the deceit.
But we’re grateful to Joe Lycett for highlighting a serious issue: how do we ensure that people can trust the reviews they read online, specifically those they see on Trustpilot, and protect themselves from cheats and scams.
This is something we’ve been working incredibly hard on for more than a decade. Indeed, enabling companies and consumers to build trust by sharing and acting on feedback in a transparent, open way is the very reason we exist. And it works. According to recent research, consumers trust reviews from other consumers more than every other information source except family and friends.
But as the Joe Lycett experiment makes clear, there are some dishonest actors online who will try to abuse that trust. It’s critical we’re all alert and protect ourselves.
This article highlights some of the signs that everyone should be on the lookout for.
As the review platform operator, we can never be too vigilant. Contrary to the statements made by Which? on the programme, we have a number of checks and balances in place and we’ve invested tens of millions in technology and expertise to detect fakes, take stern action against cheats, and continually educate all users (companies and consumers alike) on how to unlock the power of our platform in the right way.
In the past year alone we’ve put a public consumer warning on 489 company profiles where our rules have been breached or where consumers should be cautious when engaging with the business; taken legal action against several hundred others (including limiting their access), and removed over a million fake reviews. Today, Trustpilot leads globally in exposing bad behaviour through the transparency of our platform.
We’re always striving to do more though. Over the next weeks and months, we’re investing millions more in technology, people and processes to keep improving our platform and enforcement.
For example, Joe Lycett showed how a dishonest company could misuse our invitation tools to get some fake reviews past our fake detection net and appear as ‘verified’ for a period of time. That’s not good, so we’ve made a change to tighten our net further. Reviews like this are now marked as ‘invited’ so consumers know we have not validated them.
Further to this, historically some companies have chosen to offer consumers an incentive to leave a review. This is allowed under our guidelines as long as every incentive is neutrally worded, steering equally towards both positive and negative feedback. The simple logic is that neutral incentives lead to more reviews and that creates a fuller picture for other consumers.
Though Joe’s use of incentives was fictitious, we’ve seen a small number of other companies breaching our incentive rules. That damages trust so we’re fundamentally revamping our incentives policy to stamp this out. We’ll share fuller details shortly.
We’re continually improving our systems and defences to fight fraudulent and misleading behaviour.
Though we will never be 100% perfect due to the constantly changing nature of fraudulent behaviour, we constantly strive to lead the reviews industry on this front. We’ve introduced many new initiatives and will be introducing many more in the coming months:
Over the past year we have:
Given full transparency on how every business flags reviews for investigation
Showed exactly how and when every company invites and receives their reviews
Updated all our guidelines to remove legal-speak and make them accessible and user-friendly
Made our reporting/ flagging reviews process easier for both consumers and businesses
Changed our process to make clearer which reviews are ‘verified’ and which are not
Over the coming month we will:
Roll out further fraud detection methods, including improved fake detection technology
Use real-time data feeds from leading global tech partners to enhance our flagging mechanisms
Add even more transparency about how Trustpilot works and is used by all
Strengthen our consumer alert system
Revamp company profile pages to make it even easier for consumers to see the most relevant information about how each company uses the platform
Continue work with authorities and public bodies globally to actively combat those engaged in misleading online review practices
We’ll update the public and users of our platform more on these changes in the coming days and weeks.
Thankfully, the vast majority of businesses who actively use our platform do so in the right way. We’re absolutely determined to keep protecting their ability to do so.
Finally, while fully accepting our need to always improve and the value of Joe Lycett’s experiment in reminding us all of the need to be vigilant, it’s worth noting what else would have occurred if the deception was by a real company. A poor product would ultimately be exposed by ‘real’ consumers writing negative reviews. If the company tried to hide all of those genuine reviews by flagging all or most for investigation we would flag this as abuse, trigger an investigation and warn consumers.
Across the world today, the challenges of maintaining trust online are well documented. We’ll never stop fighting in our quest to promote and protect trust between companies and consumers online.