Tactical Information Systems
Biometric Identification Software
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Tactical Information Systems Blog

Identity & Technology

Are Online Reviews Worth It Anymore?

With our BeehiveID product, we are focused on the online review space. A set of good/bad online reviews can make or break a product or even a company. However, online reviews suffer from a core identity problem, namely how can you trust a review from someone you don't know?

Obviously there are a lot of conflicting interests here. If I am selling something, I want positive reviews for my thing and negative reviews for my competitor's things. If I am unethical, I may buy those reviews or incentivise them in some other way.

Here is a snapshot of the Fiverr page for "writing services":

Product Reviews For Sale

Product Reviews For Sale

$5 for a positive review probably has a decent ROI, especially for a new product. Spending $100 this way might be enough to jump start attention and get your product going. And not to pick on Fiverr here, there are plenty of other sources for fake reviews or likes.

Bad reviews can also be dangerous. We came across this news article recently. Basically a home contractor is suing some anonymous Yelp reviewers for libel:

"The lawsuit names eight “causes of libel,” meaning phony Yelp reviews. And for each one Link claims it has “suffered loss of its reparation and injury to its business all to its general damage in the sum of $1,000,000.” Each defendant, as of now, is being named by the screen name used for the Yelp reviews."

The contractor has to sue Yelp to try to find out the identities behind the users. Depending on how careful the supposed trolls were, it may be easy or impossible to find out their identities. Does this lawsuit have merit? I have no idea. But it does point to the seriousness of the fake review problem. It is worth a lot of money to businesses to have good reviews and minimize bad reviews.

Like most of the problems we are interested in, we see this as an identity problem. If you are willing to make a review public to the world, you should be willing to stand behind the review with your real identity. Otherwise it is worthless. Online trust requires online identity. Assuming the bad reviewers in the article were trolls, it would be easy to eliminate them as viable reviewers if their reviews were backed by strong identities. Effectively their reputation as reviewers would be so poor that no one would pay attention to them. But since they can create a new identity anytime they want, they can go on trolling. We need a better way to do online ID verification.

The challenge, of course, is that online identification is hard. It is hard to do well, and the better you do it the more you make customers mad by forcing them to do a lot of extra work.

Our BeehiveID product provides an identity verification API so you can have a lightweight, but strong identity solution that can help you identity real users. Reach out to us if you would like to know more.