"Please rate us!" Regardless of whether someone books a restaurant online, buys a product or orders a taxi using the app: Usually a short time later, an email is sent asking for a rating. Users should then distribute stars, often from one (not satisfied) to five (very satisfied), maybe even a short comment about what they found so bad or so great.
Good for companies that can hope to sell more services and products with good ratings (for example, International Journal of Hospitality Management : Ye, 2009; International Journal of Electronic Commerce : Cui, 2012). And good for star distributors and commentators who sort the often confusing world of online consumption. Reviews indicate whether the Airbnb host is really cool, why the new restaurant was unfortunately hyped for no reason and why the headphones don't hide the outside noise as well as the advertising promises. And if 713 people gave 4.4 stars on average, it won't be that bad.
But what if not all available data are included in an assessment? The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Karlsruhe dealt with this question on Tuesday. Renate Holland, former world champion in bodybuilding and operator of several fitness studios, sued the online portal Yelp. One of Holland's studios had only a three-star rating there in February 2014 - really bad in the cosmos of online ratings.
Well rated is not enough
Users can distribute stars for almost every service on Yelp: hotel accommodation, shopping, massage, haircut, car repair and also the service in the gym. Only Yelp reserves the right to weight the posts automatically and only display recommended ones. The rating of Hollands Studio at that time only reflected the opinion of a Yelper - 24 mostly positive contributions were not shown. "It's strange that you just delete them," Holland told the dpa news agency. Usually she should have got 4 to 4.5 stars.
Not necessarily. The judges at the BGH now decided in favor of Yelp. The rating portal does not suggest "that the displayed rating average is the result of the evaluation of all contributions made for the gym", says a brief explanation. The rating could show users how many contributions formed the basis for the average value. An entrepreneur had to accept criticism of his performance. In 2018, the BGH ruled on the physician evaluation portal Jameda that the platform's business model was not neutral. At that time a doctor had sued. She asked Jameda to delete negative reviews about her.
The current judgment is at least disputable. Before the verdict was pronounced, the lawyer Christian Solmecke wrote: "In my opinion, the Yelp system contradicts the nature of a rating portal," as it was said in a blog post. "As a website visitor, when I look at the overall grade of a shop, I automatically assume that it represents the average of all votes cast."
Yelp itself justifies the automated pre-selection by preventing positive reviews. The recommendation software is working on "recognizing and not recommending contributions requested or requested by companies", says the website. According to Yelp, they weight various aspects, such as the quality of a contribution, how reliable someone evaluates it and how active that person is on Yelp. Most companies would only address satisfied customers, which would lead to a "distorted overall rating".
Who trusts online reviews?
The concern is actually justified: on Yelp, but also on Google Maps or Amazon, it is difficult to distinguish between people who have actually visited a restaurant and found it great, and people who only positively rate it out of courtesy. Conversely, it is also difficult to distinguish justified criticism of a business from a smear campaign, for example by a competitor. The companies, on the other hand, use rules. For example, on Yelp, Google Maps and Amazon, it is prohibited to rate your own products or to discredit competitors.