Doctors with Fake reviews? Why big data can solve the problem

Some Doctors and Dentists seem to be putting out fake 5-star reviews. This goes beyond fake reviews on Amazon and Google. Because now you are talking health.

Healthcare involves trusting the provider. Much more than you need to trust a seller on Amazon!

This post explains why businesses and customers look for 5-star reviews, how “fake it till you make it” works for companies and individuals, Why in the digital big data world, fake reviews will be found, and finally some tips to protect yourself; in the meanwhile, from fake reviews.

Why businesses and customers look for 5-Star Reviews

Businesses look for five-star reviews because that helps increase their rankings in any listing on Amazon, Google, Yelp, etc. And customers seem to look for reviews before even putting the product on a shortlist or brand consideration set. If you have a 3-star rating, you could be on the 5th page and are almost guaranteed not to be seen. So the incentive for businesses to find 5-Star reviews is enormous. Best of all, the company is exempt from declaring Caveat Emptor or “Buyer Beware.” They never put out a paid ad with their name on it. So what can a poor business do if customers say five stars? Seems to be the stance. Besides, fake reviews are much cheaper than advertising, as freelance marketplaces like Fiverr show.

Specialized services like ZocDoc for doctors verify reviews for doctors diligently. Not so for your typical directory type local lists on Google, Yelp, HomeAdvisor, etc.

Two-sided marketplaces like Uber put the passenger on the dock as the driver can rate the passenger. Since both sides rate each other, the customer is better behaved than in airlines.

Customers “believe” in five-star reviews because it makes the choice problem easier. Somehow we feel we are entirely “off the hook” from the “Buyer Beware” principle. After all, we reason, so many 5-stars and glowing words can’t be wrong.

If our dear readers were to ask themselves, they would hardly be able to list two or three products, brands, or services they consider 5-star from all their experiences. So the logic of why we accept five-star ratings is inexplicable.

To summarize, puffery in paid advertising is accepted and discounted by businesses and customers alike, but 5-star reviews seem more accepted by both. Academic research (see a great article in Marketing Science by Sherry He, Brett Hollenbeck, and Davide Proserpio) finds that low-quality new products on Amazon get an uptick from fake reviews, but that does not last. After all, you can’t fool all the people all the time! More seriously, any business that seeks to endure needs to provide value as assumed by the customers.

Fake it till you make it?

Going by the analysis of Amazon products in the above article, the businesses probably never intended to try and match performance to the five-star reviews. Customers, after buying, were unhappy and gave out multiple one-star reviews.

At the individual level, “fake it till you till you make it” seems good advice for anyone trying to build up your confidence for any challenging situation. It’s like giving yourself “fake 5-star reviews”. A guru of this view is Harvard Professor and TED talk speaker Amy Cuddy. An implied assumption is that you are working hard to match up to the “fake reviews” you are giving yourself.

If only fake review businesses felt as responsible as individuals who give themselves 5-star pep talks and 5-star reviews!

Big Data can find fake reviews.

Recently Amazon sued 10,000 Facebook group admins who ran marketplaces offering fake reviews. Amazon has 12,000 employees delving into the data for fraud and abuse and has been complaining to Facebook since 2020. Some of the Facebook groups are large, with 40,000 members. And these groups are spread out globally. The Amazon blog from June 2021 maintains that their systems (based on data) can stop 99% of fake reviews from being posted in the first place.

Based on trust, Amazon has a clear business incentive to keep its retail engine running. Fake reviews erode trust, and no matter how easy the Amazon Prime return process is, the customer feels let down and harassed after being conned by highly rated products. It’s not clear whether the rest of the big names (Facebook, Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor) providing reviews have a direct business incentive to check fake reviews.

The FTC has become more active in curbing fake reviews. This year there are some FTC guidelines about soliciting and paying for reviews. If you think about it, FTC guidance applies to larger businesses, and very few of the 1.7 million small companies on the Amazon marketplace might know about the government’s steps.

Most small businesses are honest and want to develop repeat customers and genuine referrals. The honest businesses become the biggest casualty when a section in their industry indulges in generating fake reviews. They lose new business, and dissatisfied customers spread bad news about their industry. The Better Business Bureau tries to do the right thing, but its results are too low on Google to have any significant impact. Small businesses generate 50% of the GDP, and fake reviews continue to hurt the entire economy.

Kay Dean, Online Fraud Review Investigator from Fake Review Watch, has been doing great work in highlighting online fake review scams. Check out her YouTube channel :

It’s timely for big players like Google, Yelp, and Facebook to recognize their responsibility and huge data power. Going by the Amazon suing Facebook Group Admins story, probably different companies have already developed data models. Identifying fake reviews is conceptually straightforward, as the next section explains.

Meanwhile, how do you protect yourself from Fake Reviews?

Till reviews become more honest, here are some things to watch for:

  • Ask yourself how many reviews, as a customer, did you post in the last six months?
  • How many were five stars?
  • Now, look at the product reviews – all 5 star is dubious.
  • Look whether the five stars are concentrated over a certain period. If yes, those are probably paid for fake reviews.
  • Look at the 1-star or 2-star reviews. If there are none- it’s too good to be true.
  • Look at the photos of the reviewers – if they are all good-looking – they are stock photos, as Fake Review Watch explains.
  • Read the text comments around 4-5 stars and 1-3 stars, generic comments don’t mean much as many fake reviewers have never really used the product.
  • Buyer Beware: pay by credit card and check the return policy.

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