In this week’s update, learn about the FTC’s new penalties and guidelines for misleading reviews; Google’s GMB Facebook page debacle; “Updates from Customers” in Google profiles; Google’s new plan for replacing third-party cookies; Meta’s powerful supercomputer; and the addition of food ordering to GBP Performance metrics.
FTC Issues New Penalties and Guidelines for Misleading Reviews
The Federal Trade Commission has levied a $4.2 million fine against online retailer Fashion Nova, accusing the company of using the Yotpo platform to promote its business by publishing positive reviews of products and suppressing negative reviews. According to a statement, the FTC found that Fashion Nova was only publishing product reviews of four stars or greater. The FTC also issued letters to ten review management platforms advising them to cease similar practices and stating that “avoiding the collection or publication of negative reviews violates the FTC Act.” The letter goes on to state that asking for reviews only from customers likely to leave a positive rating is also considered a violation. These practices are typically described using the term “review gating.”
A post from FTC attorney Mike Atleson expands upon the ruling, stating that reviews of products as well as businesses require protection if consumers are to continue to trust online reviews as a valuable information source. In the post, Atleson says the FTC has recently sent penalty notices to some 700 businesses for making use of misleading reviews and endorsements, and has updated its guidelines for websites and marketing companies.
The new guidelines state that review platforms must:
- Favor transparency about how they deal with reviews.
- Identify incentives and material connections between sellers and reviewers.
- Treat positive and negative reviews equally.
- Have reasonable processes in place to spot fake or deceptive reviews.
- Have effective reporting mechanisms for consumers and businesses to use.
Google Loses Facebook Page to Review-Selling Scammers
When Google My Business changed its name to Google Business Profile, someone missed a step and abandoned the Facebook page handle for the old name, after which it was quickly nabbed by a company selling Google reviews. This embarrassing miss on Google’s part was shared on Twitter by Joy Hawkins, after which Mike Blumenthal wrote a blog post suggesting Google had been “pwned.” The questionable offering included conspicuous typos and reviews for sale at $4 each. Luckily for Google, the page remained live for only about 24 hours and now returns an error; Google’s new Facebook page is at facebook.com/googlebusinessprofile.
The brief afterlife of facebook.com/googlemybusiness, courtesy Carrie Hill
Google Displaying “Updates from Customers” in Business Profiles
Google is highlighting snippets from customer reviews in a prominent display on business profiles with the heading “Updates from customers,” according to Thibault Adda who shared a screenshot on Twitter. Adda pointed out that the display is similar to that of Google Posts, and suggested that the content, which may also include a photo, seems to come from Local Guides.
This feature is apparently not new; Claire Carlile replied to Adda’s post saying she has been seeing “Updates from customers” since last year. Joy Hawkins reported she was seeing the feature for many U.S. restaurants, but so far I have been unable to reproduce it so it may be rolling out slowly, as these features often do.
See “Updates from customers” section at lower left; courtesy Thibault Adda
Topics, Not FLoCs, Will Replace Cookies in Google’s New Plan
Google is still planning to sunset third-party cookies in the Chrome browser sometime in 2022 (following Firefox and Safari who have already done so), but its plans for a cookie replacement have just shifted, according to an announcement from the company. Gone is the concept of Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoCs, Google’s proposal to group users anonymously based on their shared interests. Instead, Google says it will launch a Topics API that will store three weeks worth of interest categories for users based on their website visits – again, without storing any personal information. The top five interest categories, or Topics, for each user will be displayed to advertisers who have integrated the Topics API when the user visits a website in the advertiser’s network, and the advertiser can then choose to target ads to the user based on the indicated interests and any other contextual factors (such as article content on the page).
Users will be able to edit the Topics they are associated with or to opt out of Topics entirely. Google says this adjusted plan was a consequence of the feedback received after FLoCs were announced. The company is moving carefully to replace third-party cookies with minimal disruption to the online advertising market.
Image courtesy Google
Meta Has Built the Most Powerful Computer in the World
Facebook parent Meta claims to have built an AI supercomputer that is “among the fastest artificial intelligence supercomputers running today,” hoping to use the computer to “lay the groundwork for its building of the metaverse,” according to the AP story. Once its construction is complete sometime this year, Meta believes their computer, dubbed AI Research SuperCluster, will be the most powerful in the world. It will be capable of analyzing trillions of documents across hundreds of languages and a variety of media including text, images, and video. The computer will be used to run deep learning algorithms in order to understand the content of the documents it examines. Use cases include real-time voice translation for large groups of people for the purpose of collaborating on projects or playing games.
Google Adds Food Ordering to Actions Tracked in GBP Performance
Joey Abna, posting in the Local Search Forum, has spotted a new metric, “Food orders,” in the GBP Actions table that appears in Search amongst Google’s relatively new Performance metrics. Abna says the new metric appeared on Friday 1/29 for the restaurant locations he manages. With the addition of food orders, Google now displays a fairly long list of action types in Performance, including calls, messages, bookings, directions, and website clicks. Similar to the Actions table in the Insights page of the Google Business Profile Manager dashboard, the new table emphasizes a broader range of action types and seems designed to make conversion-oriented actions front and center in the minds of GBP owners and managers.
The food ordering interface within GBP supports both first-party and third-party ordering; as yet it’s unclear whether the new metric reports on both types and whether it makes a distinction between them.
Image courtesy Joey Abna