Yelp, Airbnb and Amazon thrive on customer reviews. No wonder so many tech companies are starting to focus on making them more trustworthy

Could do better: How to clean up the world of online reviews

Presentation: unreliable (Image: Getty)

THE internet runs on opinions. If you want to eat out, visit a faraway city or just get a new toothbrush, there are thousands of online reviews to help you make choices. Services like Yelp, Airbnb and Amazon rely on this electronic word of mouth to keep users coming back.

But savvy consumers know that user-generated reviews aren’t guaranteed to be credible. Bad comments about a hotel might have been penned by someone with an axe to grind; a rave restaurant review could be by the chef’s mother. That’s led some tech companies to ask: how can we make online opinons more reliable?

“The main goal of review platforms is to maintain the trust of their users,” says Georgios Zervas at Boston University, who studies internet marketing. “If I read some reviews on Yelp that were positive, then I go into that restaurant and have a bad experience, that might make me not trust Yelp reviewers any more.”

“If I read some positive reviews then have a bad experience, I might not trust the reviewers again”

Fake reviews are part of the problem. Zervas found that at least 16 per cent of reviews on Yelp are flagged by the company’s secret algorithm as suspicious, and ultimately filtered out.

Yelp has conducted sting operations, catching out firms offering to pay people to write favourable restaurant reviews. Offenders’ listings were temporarily plastered with a banner to warn users as well as businesses that might be considering the same tactic.

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