Fake news, fake restaurants, and fake ratings websites.

I have just come across the wonderful story of how a young man in London created a fake restaurant listing on TripAdvisor and set about making it the number 1 rated restaurant in London, even though the restaurant itself didn’t actually exist. It took him 5 months to reach the coveted number 1 spot. Here is his take on it in his own words.

Here is a video of how the entire process came about. The restaurant was called The Shed at Dulwich for the simple reason that the writer behind the prank actually did live in a shed in Dulwich.

TripAdvisor has come out with a standard corporate doubletalk bit of nonsense proclaiming that its computer algorithms are the absolute best at determining what is real and what is fake.

TripAdvisor told The Telegraph in a statement: “Generally, the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us. As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant it is not a problem we experience with our regular community – therefore this ‘test’ is not a real world example.”

The spokesperson also said that the company uses state-of-the-art technology to combat fraudsters trying to influence the ratings of real businesses, and that the difference between reviews from real customers and fake customers tends to show which ratings are real.

Well yes, they would say that, wouldn’t they. Let’s go through their attempt at corporate spin.

Generally, the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us.

The test was not misguided at all – it worked better than the young man who did it ever dreamed possible. He also has received a huge amount of publicity. For him this is all upside.

As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant it is not a problem we experience with our regular community – therefore this ‘test’ is not a real world example.”

There was a huge incentive to create a fake restaurant and that was to determine whether or not TripAdvisor’s business model is complete bullshit. And if they are claiming that this test did not exist in the real world then the corollary to that is that TripAdvisor’s business model does not exist in the real world either.

The spokesperson also said that the company uses state-of-the-art technology to combat fraudsters trying to influence the ratings of real businesses, and that the difference between reviews from real customers and fake customers tends to show which ratings are real.

If this is indeed the case, how do they explain the process whereby a fake restaurant that never existed and only took in a handful of actual customers for a single evening managed to get to number 1 on a list of London restaurants that numbers almost 20,000? This guy influenced the ratings of all the real businesses because he demonstrated that the ratings system itself is completely meaningless. Their “state-of-the-art technology” sounds like it is supported by a couple of tins attached by a piece of strong with a password called ‘password’.

There’s one other thing that anyone who is even remotely switched on needs to take away from this: if you’re going to open a business then you need to create the spin for it well in advance. Your job is not to open the doors. Your job is to open the doors when there is already a line that stretches all the way around the block and down the street. This guy had the number 1 restaurant in London, and even though he has revealed the ruse he still has people willing to invest in his fictitious eating establishment.

8 thoughts on “Fake news, fake restaurants, and fake ratings websites.

  1. I use trip advisor and like it. I get that it can be monkeyed with, but it’s still better than not having any reference when I travel.

    That being said, if the whole internet went away would I still travel and enjoy myself? You betcha. In fact, I did it for years.

    I also carried a pile of paper maps and was a member of AAA. Anyone remember Trip Ticks? They would print you a map of your whole trip, all on regular sized pages that would be bound together in a little booklet and you could just flip the pages and follow along instead of having a giant pile of state maps to sort through.

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  2. David Moore

    Trip advisor, and ebay and everything like them are all based on a trust model. Without a society that generally behaves in a trusting manner, they simply don’t work. The fact they do work is really a testament to how good most of western society is.

    No one is running ebay in Nigeria.

    Trip advisor are, of course, talking rubbish about detecting fake content, they mostly don’t need to do anything, if they did the whole thing wouldn’t work at all.

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    1. TechieDude

      These sites can do (and do sometimes) simple things to build the accuracy and trust of the site. Take Amazon for instance – I don’t generally read the reviews, but simply categorizing whether someone bought whatever from them adds value. Otherwise, it’s buyer beware.

      Ebay, I’ll look at satisfaction rating as compared to total transactions. Yelp I’ll look at how long they’ve been a member, and how many posts. But like I said, they could make it easier.

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  3. Frank

    This is interesting yet somewhat annoying to learn. TripAdvisor have rejected my attempts to list on their site on multiple occasions for my very real business with a very real website with very real customers.

    As is the case with most of Big Social Media they won’t specifically tell me why. I’m supposed to guess the specific reason from a generalized list of things that could explain the reason for my rejection…..even though I appear to violate none of them.

    Is it too soon to really begin using terms like “Big Social Media Complex”?

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  4. Antidote

    ‘State-of-the-art’ is the flashing neon sign of cliches. Whenever you see it you’re already up to your kneecaps in bulldink and jive and will soon be met with ‘award winning’ and ‘signature’ as in “our award winning, signature bread pudding”—-(and ‘world class,’ don’t forget “our world class health spa” and “our world class shopping”.
    I have long suspected the reviews are generated by one or two people because of the mind numbing sameness, but also a bad review is so uniformly horrendous and dismissive that one assumes the writer is a crank or a disgruntled employee with an axe to grind.
    It is all crap, and it is all a Better Business-Rotary-Newspaper-Gubmint-Booster circle jerk effort to generate capital. The bread pudding is ordinary white bread, cream, sugar and artificial vanilla flavour; the awards are given out by the local newspaper—and the owners and editors do all the voting. Bulldink, crapola, jive all the way around.

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  5. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 01.23.18 : The Other McCain

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