"What we want? Quite simple answer: money!" It was in February of last year that Peter Frühsammer read these lines in an email. A threat. The anonymous sender requested 300 euros or 0.1 bitcoin. Immediately. Otherwise, he would ensure that hundreds of negative reviews about Frühsammers Nobelrestaurant would appear in online portals. As proof, the blackmailer (s) had already written a first review on Google the day before. The food was cold, the service could be expanded, there was only three out of five stars. "Now you should know we are not bluffing," the email said.
Barely a year later, Frühsammer stands in the Wilmersdorf district of Berlin in the restaurant that bears his name. In front of him is a long set table with 16 guests. A closed society celebrates its birthday. Together with his wife Frühsammer announces the menu to the group: scallops, fillet of beef and wines from the Palatinate are served. Frühsammer wears a leather apron, a blue shirt and a smile. All places are occupied. If you want to eat here, you have to make reservations well in advance. The shop is running - because Frühsammer reacted quickly to the blackmail attempt.
The power of ratings is great
57 percent of Germans regularly look at reviews on platforms such as Google, Tripadvisor, Jameda or Yelp. They read reviews of female doctors and skim reviews of hotels and restaurants. The Tripadvisor rating platform alone has more than 5.1 million restaurants worldwide that users can rate. And they did it 66 million times on Tripadvisor in 2018 alone. Everyone can anonymously award points on these platforms, leave a comment and thus influence the overall rating of a company. The platforms themselves determine exactly how this happens, mostly without making it transparent.
The Federal Court of Justice decided today that this is permissible. The owner of several fitness studios, on the other hand, had complained that the algorithm of the Yelp platform decides which reviews it believes to be trustworthy - in other words, it classifies the reviews received as "recommended" or "not recommended". According to the judgment, this is protected by the freedom of profession and freedom of expression. In the applicant's case, a few complaints had resulted in the overall rating of her studios being negative. A few bad reviews can continue to change the overall appearance of a company, despite many good reviews. A problem for many entrepreneurs who hope to gain customers through the platforms - and not lose them.
Frühsammer, who was blackmailed by the anonymous user, has tried in vain to have the wrong rating deleted via his gourmet restaurant. And this despite the fact that he was able to prove to Google that the rating came from the anonymous blackmailer (s). But made the email public, gave interviews to local media and filed a complaint. Today, almost a year later, the rating is still online. With his offensive demeanor, Frühsammer was able to prevent the author of the email from realizing his threat and from issuing further bad reviews.
Anyone who expresses himself politically runs the risk
A restaurateur from southern Germany, who wants to remain anonymous, has also learned what influence the rating portals can have. He posted this sentence on social media about two years ago: "I value the fact that AfD supporters are not welcome in my inn." The man wanted to send a signal when the right-wing populists rose in the polls. He wouldn't do that again today. Immediately after the post came some positive news, "but then the right-wing mob conquered the comment columns," he says today. His post has been shared and commented on Facebook more than 3,000 times. Suddenly there were sentences like this below the post:
"I will call the hygiene (health department) tomorrow and complain about the dirty conditions with you (even if I have never been to you)."
"I don't like the food anyway. I always get diarrhea and I think they gave me the change."
"We'll come over, but not for dinner."
In addition, employees of the restaurant were insulted and threatened, says the innkeeper. He was able to delete comments like this on Facebook, so they are not available ZEIT ONLINE. "It was a planned action by right-wing groups," says the innkeeper. The statistics showed that the post reached more than 200,000 users.