The Streisand Effect

Here’s a fun fact about me for the uninitiated: I love döner kebab.

For me, a good döner simply is the king of German street food, and being a native of Berlin/Brandenburg, there is also a bit of local pride involved. After all, Döner Kebap is a beautiful success story of integration. A Turkish street vendor slightly altering an existing dish to fit his German customers’ needs – et voila.

Another fact about me is that I am part internet. I will admit (and frequently have done so already) that I exhibit mildly addictive behaviours in my usage of the internet in general and any form of social media in particular. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that micro-reviews of places I visit or frequent are something I partake in. In my case, it was Google reviews. Register yourself as a ‘local guide’ and let people know what you think about places or services you use. Combined with a simple gamification aspect (you get points and ‘level up’ – although there seems to be no end goal or benefit), and you have me.

Only a few months back, I came to the epiphany that Google does not care about what I personally think about the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It also does not care what other people think about my opinion. All Google cares about is that I care. I subsequently stopped using the review feature. In fact, I have stopped reviews of that kind altogether. Interestingly, though: Once you do, you’ll realise how obnoxiously most companies will keep asking you about this. It’s data mining under the guise of customer satisfaction surveys.

Now, where is the connection between the heavenly mana that is a well-made kebab and comprehensive surveillance of your taste by Google?

Today, I received an email from the Google team asking me for a statement about a review I posted two(!!!!) years ago. It included a lot of corpo-speak mixed with legalese. Turns out the owner of a kebab store took issue with the following one-star review:

Don’t bother. Overpriced and touristy for painfully average food. What really grinds my gears, is charging extra for a ‘big’ kebap and then handing out a portion exactly the same as a regular one. Better stay away from that one.

(me, not particularly liking a kebab for once)

Well, I am willing to admit that this isn’t the most in-depth review. Heck… review. It’s an opinion. Subjective as they come. But then, this is how crowd-reviews work supposedly. (apart from the fact that the actual reason these systems exist is the aforementioned data mining) You express for opinion/satisfaction about a place or service, and the system aggregates all available ‘reviews’ into a ranking of the reviewed commodity. The idea is that you don’t have to be a certified food critic. Newsflash: These reviews are all subjective.

I am aware that all these systems can be exploited. I am also aware that in our modern society, these systems can be weaponized. However, I would advocate to not take those too seriously. If your business relies on positive Google reviews to this degree, you might wanna rethink the whole approach.

Anyways, I answered the email faithfully, even though I could not resist the urge to take the piss. After all, they asked me to prove I actually was a customer of said kebab store, and my review was legit. I took some delight in pointing out the absurdity of asking for legal proof of a fast-food transaction two years ago. And I made it perfectly clear that I cannot be arsed if they take down the comment or not. Methinks the world has more significant issues right now.

However, I took the time and sent the store owner the link to the Wikipedia article about the Streisand effect. Y’know, because I am like that.

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