REMOVING FAKE REVIEWS FROM GOOGLE
A recent concern among business owners is fake negative reviews being posted online for businesses. Customers more than ever rely on online reviews in selecting companies to do business with. A problem that is frequently occurring is competitors posting malicious fake negative reviews to reduce a company's rankings to promote their own. There are even companies that post fake negative reviews and then try to solicit the company's business to have the fake reviews removed. Our NYC commercial business lawyers stay on the cutting edge of technology and use traditional Court actions to fight these harmful malicious reviews and go after those who are responsible.
THE REVIEW SAID WHAT? WHO EVEN POSTED THIS?
JOHN TAIT MICHAEL JOSEPH CLIFF NELSON
Our NYC business lawyers know that bad online reviews can harm a business website's rankings and cause customers to choose a competitor. As businesses move online, one of the most common questions our New York business lawyers hear is “what can I do about a fake Google review,” “how do I have a false Google review removed” and “how can I stop fake reviews”?
Our New York commercial business lawyers at the Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC have the experience, knowledge, and skill to help you successfully remove fake business reviews from your Google search profile. Many customers and consumers today find and locate business using the Google search engine, and many potential customers evaluate and chose which business to use based on the business profile presented to them as a result of the Google search. One of the most prominent features of a business’s Google profile is the customer reviews. A bad review may sink a business. Unfortunately, many businesses are targeted with false reviews on Google. These reviews are not posted by actual customers of the business, but may come from anyone with an ax to grind (for example, a former employee, a competitor, a former spouse, or simply someone with a different political ideology). Many of these reviews are posted under pseudonyms, so the person’s true identity cannot be readily ascertained. Another recent and disbursing trend is a scam targeting businesses on Google with the threat of 1-star reviews unless they send money via gift cards or bitcoin. These fake reviews can come from anywhere, even overseas. While Google actively tries to stop fake reviews, it cannot stop them all.
According to Google’s terms of service, it uses an AI algorithm to analyze reviews and to weed
out fake reviews. The algorithm considers such factors as:
The content of the review: Does it contain offensive or off-topic content?
The account that left the review: Does the Google account have any history of suspicious behavior?
The place itself: Has there been uncharacteristic activity — such as an abundance of reviews over a short period of time? Has it recently gotten attention in the news or on social media that would motivate people to leave fraudulent reviews?
Because many fake reviews do not fit into Google’s AI algorithm, however, it cannot prevent all false reviews.
How to have a fake review removed from GOOGLE.
To remove a fake review, the first step is, you need to contact Google through their web portal to flag the false review. Take note, however, that once the review is removed, you may lose your ability to discover who posted the fake review and lose the ability to sue the author who posted the review. Contacting Google can be accomplished through the webpage or phone application, and can be
flagged “as a false review.” Google’s terms of service explicitly prohibit false reviews, which Google defines as:
Paying, incentivising [sic] or encouraging the posting of content that does not represent a genuine experience.
Content that is not based on a real experience and does not accurately represent the location or product in question.
Content that has been incentivized by a business in exchange for discounts, free goods and/or services.
Content that has been posted by a competitor to undermine a business or product’s reputation.
Content that has been posted from multiple accounts to manipulate a place’s rating.
While not always successful, flagging the fake review will trigger a secondary review by Google. Even a secondary review, however, is no guarantee of success. Why? Because some reviews genuinely look real, meaning Google cannot tell that they are fake.
What can you do when the review is defamatory?
Fake reviews often contain allegations that the business (or its owners or employees) engaged in some type of egregious conduct. These statements may not only be negative, but they may also be defamatory. Defamation consists of slander (oral statement) and libel (written statement).
Because Google reviews are written statements, the law of libel would apply. Each state’s libel law is different, so whether a statement is considered libel depends on the application of the relevant law. Libel, however, is generally a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation. A review that is pure opinion or is not false is not libel, and courts are understandably hesitant to entertain lawsuits over statements that are not clearly false and defamatory. Our highly experienced defamation lawyers can assist you in determining whether the fake Google reviews constitute an actionable defamation claim.
Even for clearly false and defamatory reviews, Google is not legally responsible for removing the reviews and cannot be held liable for any damages caused by the fake reviews. Because it is not considered the “publisher” of the reviews, it is protected from lawsuits by the targets of the defamatory materials. Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230; Shiamili v. Real Estate Group of New York, Inc., 17 N.Y.3d 281, 293 (2011). A legal action, however, may be commenced against the person who wrote the defamatory review.The first step in initiating a lawsuit against the author of the fake review is to discover the true identity of the author. Google keeps a significant amount of information about the person who posts reviews, such as their name, phone number, email address, and the internet protocol (“IP”) address(es) assigned to the computer used by the person who established the Google accounts. It should be noted (again), that if Google removes the offending review through their review appeals process discussed above, the identifying information may be lost. It is important, therefore, to contact a lawyer experienced in removing fake Google reviews to obtain the information prior to the removal or the ability to commence a lawsuit against the person who posted the fake review may be lost.
HOW DO I FIND OUT WHO POSTED THE REVIEW
In order to obtain information on the person who posted the fake review, a court Order is required. By bringing a pre-litigation discovery motion before the court (typically via an Order to Show Cause), a court can order Google to disclose the identifying information to the targeted business. Based on our experience, upon receipt of the court Order, Google will typically reach out to the movant’s counsel to reach an agreement as to the procedures to both protect the rights of the author of the fake post, and to provide the information in the event there is no objection or the court orders the disclosure. Our business lawyers have the experience and knowledge to
negotiate the process with Google to obtain the underlying information quickly, and at minimum costs. Google will require that the person or people who post the fake reviews be provided notice of the Order (which it will do via email), and be given a short period of time (typically twenty-one (21) days) to challenge the court’s Order by submitting their objections directly to the court that issued the Order. If the author of the fake review submits the required legal opposition, Google will not disclose the identifying information until the court makes a ruling on the opposition. If no opposition is filed, Google typically agrees to disclose the information within a few days. Once the author of the fake review is identified, a defamation lawsuit can be commenced.
At the Law Offices of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC, our New York City business litigation attorneys have the experience and skill to discover the true identity of the people who post fake Google reviews that may harm your business, and the ability to recover damages against the authors of the defamatory reviews that can jeopardize the success of your business.
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