How Trustpilot Extorts Businesses
Trustpilot promises to be “free and open” — in reality, they are the exact opposite, holding companies at ransom, and outright violating their own terms, as well as the law.
Like most companies, we didn’t choose to use Trustpilot, but in 2019, a user left this 5-star review for Shoprocket on Trustpilot.com, and whether we liked it or not, we were now listed, and anybody could leave a public review that we have no control over.
This may sound like a nice idea in principle, an open, trusted platform, powered by real users with real experiences, unlike the many fake reviews you’ll find on websites directly, but there’s something rotten at the very core of Trustpilot, and after months of pushy sales tactics from them, they finally resorted to outright extortion.
Welcome to Trustpilot — There is no escape
Anybody can add a “business profile” to Trustpilot, and once it’s added, it cannot be removed. You can “claim” your business profile if you can verify you’re a legal representative, but you cannot remove your company or your information from their platform. Ever.
Trustpilot says they do this to ensure genuine reviews remain online, which makes sense, but what happens when the reviews aren’t genuine? Or worse, when the relationship with Trustpilot turns ugly, and they publicly accuse you (wrongfully) of abusing the system?
It’s a “catch 22” situation — their own terms dictate that to use Trustpilot (as a business) you must agree to their terms. But we did not give our consent to be listed on their platform, that right was revoked when they allowed somebody to submit a review, without any checks or verification.
To reply to a review, you have to register, and of course, accept the terms.
Whether you want to use Trustpilot for free or use our paid services, you’ll need to accept these terms so that it’s clear what each other’s legal rights and obligations are. Your access and use of our services is, at all times, conditional on you agreeing to these terms. So, if at any time you do not agree with, or cannot comply with, these terms, you must not access or use any of our services.
To highlight just how flawed this is, I posted a review for a made-up company, which you can find here
Imagine for a moment that instead of “madeupcompany” — I had written a fake review for a local business. I can say whatever I like, publicly on Trustpilot, and it will be there forever.
Of course, the local business only has to claim their profile, then they can request that Trustpilot investigates the legitimacy of the review, and provide any evidence if needed. Easy!
But in order to do that, they must accept Trustpilot’s terms, at which point they have permitted Trustpilot to use their brand, content and business information, forever.
Requiring somebody to accept your terms to remove or update inaccurate content is not legal. You could argue that as a business entity, the laws do not apply, but to claim your business profile, you as an individual must accept the terms as an individual.
Do as we say, not as we do
Ironically, Trustpilot makes it very clear that you cannot use their name, logo or likeness in any way without explicit permission, yet they host hundreds of thousands of public business profiles, whose permission they did not obtain.
Once users started leaving reviews for Shoprocket on Trustpilot, we decided to follow many other websites in our industry, and add a “read our reviews on Trustpilot” button to our website.
This was a simple image (the Trustpilot logo exactly as it appears on their own site), with the text “See our reviews on” prepended.
Trustpilot emailed us to inform us that this was a violation of their terms, and we may not use their logo on our website (unless we pay a huge monthly fee) without express permission (even though they were using ours without our permission).
They advised us that if we did not remove the logo, they would be forced to publish a “Consumer Alert” on our profile, to warn users that Shoprocket was not a trustworthy business.
Naturally, we wanted to avoid this, and we’re a reasonable bunch, so we removed the logo, and instead used their “widget embed” that they had recommenced.
This widget embed was identical to what we had designed ourselves, the Trustpilot logo with “See our reviews on” prepended, except their version was slow, clunky and injected an iFrame into our page.
After we switched to the widget, they emailed again to inform us that we were still violating their terms, because we had displayed one of our user reviews on our website.
They then published the “consumer alert”:
Apparently, we’re not “playing by the rules” — the rules being that Trustpilot has absolute power over your brand, reputation and content, and they can do with it as they please.
However, if you want to use it, you will have to pay them $200 per month.
When I reached out to Trustpilot again to clarify exactly what the problem was, they informed me that we are not allowed to display our own reviews, on our own website, whilst we’re on the free plan:
You have been misusing Trustpilot’s designs and trademarks on shoprocket.io by displaying Trustpilot reviews while your company is on the Free plan.
But this didn’t sound right — are we misusing their designs and trademarks? Or are we displaying reviews?
I dug a little deeper and found quite clearly that Trustpilot does not own reviews. These are considered user-generated content, therefore not the property of Trustpilot to dictate where and how they can be displayed.
As outlined in their terms:
“We own everything we’ve put into our services except content owned by others, like the reviews on our platform which are owned by the reviewers who wrote them and any data you provide us when sending invitations to your consumers.”
If Trustpilot does not own the reviews, how can grant (and more importantly deny) how you use those reviews?
To make matters worse, they also removed a handful of genuine Shoprocket reviews, without explanation. When I contacted them to ask why, they simply responded with a prewritten blurb about content integrity. These are are reviews from real Shoprocket users, whom I had spoken to personally. So I knew for a fact they were genuine. Why would Trustpilot remove them?
In their own words:
I can understand you are upset, however when we remove reviews, this is between us and the users, and we will assess their answers according to our rules and processes.
We contact each reviewer to let them know that their review has been removed. And it’s up to them to provide us with documentation of their genuine experience with your business.
These are our rules and guidelines that we’re always follow in cases like this.
We appreciate your understanding.
Apart from the terrible grammar, there’s something interesting about this message. They say (poorly) that they always follow their rules and guidelines, yet a quick browse of their own profile says otherwise.
Here are a few reviews for Trustpilot’s own service, that have not been deemed inauthentic by their integrity team:
There are two things that stand out from the above reviews:
- They are clearly not about Trustpilot.com
- They are all 5-star reviews
Undoubtedly, if they were anything but 5-star reviews, Trustpilot would have removed them by now, but they seem more than happy to overlook fake/inaccurate reviews if it suits them.
In the spirit of fairness, we’ll go back a bit further and see if older reviews are subject to more moderation.
Let’s jump to page 20 and pick any review at random:
Here we have Trustpilot’s own “content integrity team” (the very ones who removed multiple Shoprocket reviews without cause) admitting that this review is obviously not about Trustpilot — but there it remains, for all to see, another 5 stars for them.
If you want to get a sense of how people really feel about Trustpilot, all you have to do is look at their summary of ratings:
That’s not what you’d expect to find for genuine reviews, there are far too many 1 star reviews, very few 2,3 or, and lots of 5 stars.
We’ve already ascertained that the vast majority of their 5-star reviews are probably fake or inaccurate, so let’s take a look at their 1-star reviews:
Suddenly the format and tone have changed, these don’t look fake, nor do they look like they’re about unrelated companies.
These look genuine, and they are terrible.
I haven’t cherry-picked these in any way, they’re simply the most recent 1-star reviews.
Integrity Has A Price — It’s $200/Month
In Trustpilot’s own terms, you must “Ensure that new Trustpilot Content is reflected on the Content User’s platform within a maximum of 24 (twenty-four) hours after the Trustpilot Content was created.”
According to their integrity team, this is the clause that we have violated. By copying the text from a review on Trustpilot and embedding it on our own website, we are no longer “displaying accurate and up to date information”.
At first glance, this sounds fair, but once you realise that this doesn’t apply to businesses on paid plans, it’s clear that Trustpilot doesn’t give 2 shits about integrity, the only thing they care about is when you’re going to pay up.
With every “warning” email we received, they made it clear that the real issue, was that we were not on a paid plan. There’s no mention in their terms of the rules being any different for paid users, but clearly they are.
Here’s an example of how paid users can bypass the terms entirely: https://support.trustpilot.com/hc/en-us/articles/203840826-Add-a-TrustBox-widget-to-a-webpage#select-your-reviews-3
As you can see, if you’re a paying business user, you can pick & choose which reviews are shown on your site, either by star rating (E.G — only show 5-star reviews) or by simply selecting which reviews you want to be displayed.
How is this any different to us manually embedding one of our customer reviews?
Everything about Trustpilot’s business model is shady.
- Anybody can publicly review any company, without verification or authentication that they actually interacted with the company in any way
- Once you get a review, you’ll be notified by Trustpilot that you were “lucky” enough to be listed on their platform
- In order to update or interact with the reviews of your company, you’ll need to register and agree to all their terms, thus signing away your rights, forever
- Trustpilot will then inundate you with emails about how you can encourage more people to leave reviews on your business profile
- Once you reach a significant number of reviews, you’ll be able to start highlighting reviews on your website, but only if you use their embeddable widgets — which “start from” $200/mo
- If you attempt to use any of your reviews, or link to Trustpilot to encourage more reviews without using their $200/mo embed widget, they will publicly label your company as “untrustworthy” with a consumer alert
- In order to remove the consumer alert, you’ll have to pay the $200/mo, or remove all mentions of Trustpilot (and reviews) from your site
Ultimately, we decided to ignore them and their threats, and use the reviews on our own website anyway. We’ll just have to live with being “untrustworthy” in the eyes of a platform built on lies and extortion.