THE BLOG

Online Review Sites Need to Be Brought Under Control

30/07/2014 11:49 BST | Updated 28/09/2014 10:59 BST

Customer review websites are pretty much the wild west of the internet and the reason for this is the owners of the sites don't think it's their responsibility to police the content that people post.

The result, like the American frontier in the early 1800s, is a lawless place where people can get away with doing pretty much what they please, regardless of who gets hurt and whose property is damaged or destroyed.

When I first started in business without any sort of advertising and PR budget, one of the only ways to build my operation up was through third party endorsements, particularly word of mouth recommendations.

It encouraged trust among customers - 'If Jack down the road is happy with their service, then it'll be alright by me'.

It also meant that if you did a bad job, the likelihood would be the wrong-customer would tell a lot more of their friends than if you did a good job. It was a perfect motivator to maintain quality and service.

Fast-forward 35 years and the internet has become the place to let others know your opinion and ratings of a business. Now I am no Luddite, I see the benefit of technology and the internet; after all you're reading this column online right now!

However, the ease of posting anything online, from Twitter to Trip Advisor has meant it's a lot harder to work out if those reviews are genuine or not and puts businesses at risk.

The answer is simple; all that is required is that for any review posted on any website, be it about a restaurant, a holiday destination or plumbing and home services, the reviewer needs to provide evidence that they are a genuine customer, and by that I mean a receipt or invoice for their purchase.

You would think proof of purchase would be the absolute minimum standard required before someone could go onto a public website and write what they please about a business, but in my experience that's not the case.

Currently I'm battling the Trustpilot site over fraudulent reviews (about another company) which keep appearing, and would still be visible in their dozens if it wasn't for the fact that Pimlico staff and my legal team are constantly challenging them.

Of even more concern is another site called Yelp, which operates yelp.co.uk in this country, but is actually based in San Francisco, USA. I have forced this site to remove a number of untrue, misleading or libellous reviews, but it took threats of legal action to do it. And I am now suing for a court order help us shift some more.

And if you don't believe me about the lawlessness of this industry, when asked if they would respect a court order, I was flabbergasted when Yelp refused to confirm if it would respect such an order made by an English court.

The simple truth here is that this industry needs to be brought under control, and if they won't do it themselves they need to be regulated. Because it just can't be the case that people can go online and maliciously trash company's reputations or unfairly mislead the public about services being offered.