A word of warning about Trustpilot Automatic Invitations

If you are allowing Trustpilot to invite your users to submit reviews you need to be very careful about who and how Trustpilot sends those invitations. The company that I work for uses Trustpilot to collect reviews from customers and recently an individual that wasn’t a customer and had no experience using our services mistakenly received an invite from Trustpilot. Technically speaking this invitation being sent was due to a minor mistake on our end and that’s one of the main reasons I want to provide this warning – so that you do not make the same mistake.

Trustpilot for a time allowed you to simply send a link to an form to invite customers to write reviews. For a few years this worked fine until they decided that they wanted to handle the review invitations themselves. Somehow they believe that by them sending the invitation instead of you – that it adds legitimacy to the reviews. We actually had a warning on our Trustpilot page for a bit after this change warning that our reviews may not be legitimate due to using manual invitations [i.e. links in our email signatures, new order confirmation emails, etc].

I suppose I can kind of see how it would be easier to game their system if you were able to just drop a link to whoever whenever but realistically the automatic system can be gamed just as well, it just takes a bit more time. Rather than simply dropping a link to a user you have to use one of the automatic invitation methods – one of which is simply BCCing Trustpilot on an email sent to a customer which will result in an invitation being sent. TL;DR if you really want to fake ‘verified’ reviews all you need to do is use their automatic system instead of dropping a link.

Now let’s get to the point – the issue that we experienced as a result of this automatic invitation system. Our intention is to collect legitimate reviews from our customers of their experiences. We definitely want to abide by the rules and do not offer any incentives for writing reviews nor do we ever make any suggestions about the content of reviews – all we have ever asked is that the reviews are honest. Due to losing the ability to send our own invitations – we now trigger an automatic invitation whenever a sales, billing, or technical support ticket is closed out. Ultimately we would like for our customers to share their experiences either with that particular interaction or their experiences with us as a whole.

We do not send review invitations to those that submit Abuse Reports as those are not our customers and do not have legitimate experiences with our services. Beyond that – those submitting abuse reports are very regularly not happy with us not taking the action they wish for us to take – such as demanding we take one of our clients sites offline with no valid or legitimate reason. Our customers would be very unhappy if we removed their services simply because a third party asked us to do so without justification.

The incident that triggered me writing this article is one where a third party was demanding that we remove a particular site from the internet. This person decided that sending a notice to our Abuse department was not sufficient and that they were going to send a notice to sales, billing, and technical support. Any guesses where this is heading? When we closed out those tickets in the departments they should never have contacted for their issue that triggered invitations for reviews.

Ultimately the issue the person was reporting was not one that we could solve. While the domain they were reporting was pointed at our DNS servers – our DNS servers were not resolving the domain. I often describe DNS like a phone book – DNS turns a name [a domain name] into a number [an ip address]. In this case when you queried our phone book [DNS] for the name [domain] there was no result returned [no number]. TL;DR regardless of the DNS specified at the domain – we were not hosting this domain. Furthermore we did check every server and service network-wide just to confirm further that the reported domain was not active on any service and it was not.

We informed the individual that reported this issue that the domain was not resolving and not active on our network and as a result there was nothing we could do. We provided screen shots and third party tests showing the site was not online and unavailable. Unfortunately no matter how much we tried and no matter how much substantiating evidence we provided this user absolutely wouldn’t believe us.

A short while later we received two “Verified” Trustpilot negative reviews:

Due to these reviews being “Invited” by Trustpilot, ultimately at our request by mistake, the normal options to flag such a review as not being a legitimate experience simply do not exist. We reached out to Trustpilot’s “Content Integrity Team” requesting that they review and ideally remove these reviews as they exist only to do damage and are not legitimate reviews of a customer experience or of our service.

Trustpilot was provided with a full transcript of the interaction we had with this individual so they could see for themselves that this was just an angry third party that wanted to do harm and that they did not actually have a real experience with our service nor were they ever a customer. To my surprise Trustpilot’s “Content Integrity Team” insists that the reviews are legitimate for no other reason than that they were invited and marked “Verified”.

We asked that due to the duplicate and nearly identical reviews if they could at least remove one of the two and even that request was denied. TL;DR not only do they refuse to do anything about these obviously illegitimate reviews but they allow multiple copies of said review to exist on our profile. For what it is worth only one review per user counts against our score but it still shows both reviews on our profile as well as counts both in the total number of 1-Star reviews.

If this user wished to be even more damaging all they would need to do is reach out to Sales, Billing, or Technical Support and have those tickets closed and they would receive more invitations allowing them to submit even more damaging reviews. As a result of this we’re evaluating how we allow Trustpilot to send invitations to our users and whether or not we are going to permit them to do so moving forward.

Originally we started with a review company called RatePoint and they eventually went defunct and we were able to export our reviews from them into a new organization called RateLobby. At the time we had several hundred reviews so it was good that we were able to port them over. When RateLobby eventually closed down and we wanted to move to Trustpilot we had no such option to import the reviews so all of those historical reviews were lost. We considered running our own review platform for the sake of collecting reviews from our users although we understand that it is hard for people to trust reviews at all much less ones that appear to be collected and moderated by the very company being reviewed and that is why we went with these third party companies.

On our profile there are a few 1-Star reviews and, while they are silly or absolutely inaccurate, they are from actual customers with legitimate experiences and, as such, we have never asked for any of them to be removed and simply replied to them and moved on with our day. What is really scary about this is anyone with a little knowledge and the desire to do harm can definitely game the “Verified” review system at Trustpilot and leave damaging reviews and apparently there is nothing that can be done about it. I suppose legal action against the reviewer would be an option although international legal action is generally not worth the time or cost.

I do understand that this post is long and wordy and not very exciting. That said if you are using Trustpilot please take this experience to heart and make sure that you cannot be harmed by such an experience.

Disclaimer: The Trustpilot name and logo are trademarks owned by Trustpilot, Inc. Their use in this review is for informational and review purposes only, constituting fair use under US Copyright law. This review is not endorsed by, directly affiliated with, maintained, authorized, or sponsored by Trustpilot, Inc.


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