Last fall InsiderPages.com put a price, on dollar, on what they were willing to pay for local business reviews. I stumbled on this when yesterday morning Google injected some very critical reviews of my auto mechanic onto a map page. I was checking if I’d found the right phone number.
These reviews were bad enough to trigger my calling two other mechanics. They couldn’t take my car until next week.
Finally I went back to look at the reviews. They were weird. They complained about the prices my guy charges for food and refered to some newspaper article about his his bad behavior. They were totally bogus! He doesn’t sell food and my area papers are far too business friendly to ever write such an article.
The reviews Google subscribed to came from Insider Pages. Looking up auto mechanics I could see that they, amazingly, had one and only one review for every mechanic in town. That’s not how community generated content looks.
When I signed up to write a counter review I was prompted for a promotion code and that lead me web pages showing their promotion last fall.
This kind of slander could destroy a small business and it should be criminal. Insider pages knowing paid people to create fraudulent reviews and given the statistics of the reviews I say they made no effort manage the problem. Google’s authority only magnifies the crime. I presume it would be a piece of cake for some lawyer to find a thousand businesses slandered like my auto mechanic has been and bring suit against the various parties in this example. Something more severe than letting the market punish them is appropriate.
This is the dark side of social networking (talent scrapping) sites. Get the talent to commit the crimes you need committed. It’s the social networking site owner as troll. In the worst case the business is looking for a way to force, i.e. blackmail, the local businesses into participating at the site. Angie’s List has been accused of that.