Google must crackdown on extortionists who are destroying small businesses by stealing their ‘bad reviews’


Shaz Memon writes that Google is the conduit for scammers and malicious reviews. The online giant must take full responsibility for the fake content Google serves up that crushes small business owners.

COVID 19 led to an economy of extremes. Google became 166 percent richer during the pandemic. Many small businesses suffered financial hardships and could barely survive.

Many businesses that depend on customers’ trust face severe threats from digital extortion. Scammers can post negative reviews and demand payment to remove them. A bad Google review can make or break a small business.

This is a problem with an apparent technological solution. Only allow reviewers to leave reviews if they have used the service.

Negative customer reviews are a good part of the business. They are in the best interest of customers and freedom of speech. Too often, negative reviews don’t reflect genuine market interaction. Unscrupulous competitors usually post these reviews, disgruntled partners or former employees, or any other third party with the malicious intent of retribution or to settle a personal grudge.

The “bad review” extortionists have created a new industry thanks to this loophole in tech. These criminals are skilled at manipulating businesses by posting fake reviews and offering to remove them. They can post as multiple individuals and leave various reviews.

Fake reviews can adversely affect a business in many ways. They could include reduced foot traffic, loss of customers or clients, reputational damage, loss of advertising revenue and sponsorships, lower employee morale and retention, reduced ability to recruit quality talent, and a reduced bottom line in extreme cases, even closure.

Small business hucksters are acutely aware that reviews are a commodity in an age where almost everyone reviews a business before purchasing a product. Around 90% of global consumers will read reviews before buying a product, and 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.


Google reviews are the king in this trust economy. Google reviews are the most popular review platform, with 59% of users using it to view reviews. Google holds a lot of power over small businesses, as the old saying goes. Google must accept the enormous responsibility that comes with this power, and it is doing everything to stop fake reviews.

Google advertises that they support small businesses. They allow fraudsters to bypass their rules and extort small business owners with impunity. These businesses are increasingly resorting to defamation suits against reviewers or Google. It is easy for customers to complain about companies, but it is much harder for business owners to handle misleading or false reviews.

The tech giant has been increasingly involved in legal proceedings. It argued that the fight should be between those who wrote the allegedly defamatory review and the business itself. Google shouldn’t be expected to decide what is and isn’t defamatory. Google LLC is insistent that it cannot legislate takedowns without judicial review. This would mean that Google LLC must act as a court to decide whether certain content is defamatory or valid defenses (such truth) are applicable. Google LLC is not well-placed to do this.

Google is right. It would be wholly inappropriate and alarming for a tech giant to be granted the authority to decide on matters like free speech against defamation, consumer rights, or business rights. I am not suggesting that Google should become a court.

Google should instead fix this loophole using a technological solution. However, they aren’t doing this because it could hurt their bread and butter metric: engagement. Google’s purpose d’etre, it seems, is to solve problems through technology. It’s not because Google can’t stop it; it’s just that they don’t want to.

The pandemic has made tech giants incomprehensibly rich. Alphabet, Microsoft, and Apple are now valued at $6.4 trillion. This is more than twice their combined value before the COVID-19 pandemic. Contrary to this, small businesses continue to struggle. A Federal Reserve report in the USA found that approximately 120,000 more small businesses closed during the first year of the pandemic, while over 17,500 chain stores disappeared from high streets, shopping centers, and retail parks throughout Great Britain.

I hope Google will choose an ethical decision over one that is commercial. Small businesses will continue falling prey to scammers and malicious reviews, even though Google claims they champion small businesses. Google must take its responsibility seriously. They will continue to make income streams for fraudsters, criminals, and extorters if they don’t. This is not in line with their noble battle cry “do no evil.”

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