Keeping people on the internet honest is a tricky job what with all the deepfakes, fake news and catfishing online.

Trustpilot, the review platform which allows consumers to post their perspectives and opinions on companies, is on a mission to improve honesty online and has announced new transparency features as part of that. 

So much of the internet is built around trust and reviews, from finding a place to stay on Airbnb to buying kitchen utensils from Amazon. Yet it wasn’t always this way, says CEO and founder Peter Mühlmann. When the platform was established back in 2007, the aim was to make it a “symbol of trust” for consumers and for companies – to help his mum shopping online and to help people trust his e-commerce business. 

Nearly 13 years on, he still believes that allowing people to share their opinion is of the utmost importance. “It’s an important principle that everyone who has an experience with a business can share their voice, when it was good and when it wasn’t,” he says. “But it does require investments into the infrastructure of the platform.” 

The new transparency features announced this week showcase to consumers how companies are using the platform, particularly when it comes to inviting people to post reviews. People visiting a brand’s Trustpilot profile will be able to see whether reviews were invited by the company or organic; the timeline of reviews; whether a company responds to posts; and whether a company uses Trustpilot’s free or paid services. 

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Mühlmann says it’s about offering a better picture of a company. “If a company invites all its customers to post a review on Trustpilot, all the happy ones and unhappy ones, the picture we can show about the business becomes dramatically better. We think it’s important to tell that to customers and give them an additional education on how to use the platform.” 

Trustpilot’s new transparency features shows how companies source reviews for their profile (Trustpilot )

In the past, companies have been accused of gaming Trustpilot’s services in order to serve up the best reviews to consumers – including using its paid service to display only the best reviews on their website. The new transparency feature should go some way to help clear things up. In particular, there’s no longer a reward for companies to manipulate the system because it makes it obvious when they do. 

This was something the platform found with its previous transparency features, including one which showcased how often a company would flag a review. Flagging reviews is allowed when a company suspects a review is false, however, if a company tries to take down all the negative reviews, then Trustpilot now makes that clear. For Mühlmann, there’s still more to do. “This is by no means me standing on the hanger saying, ‘Mission accomplished’. We have 100 steps to take, the bar is never set.”

What the platform finds is that nine times out of 10, companies abide by the rules of Trustpilot. That other one time, Mühlmann says is “incredibly motivating” for them to do better. And he knows companies appreciate the work they do, with CEOs regularly telling him they read their Trustpilot reviews – Mühlmann himself keeps up with the 74,000+ Trustpilot reviews about Trustpilot. 

He does consider Trustpilot to be a social platform in the vein of Facebook and Twitter, although without some of the issues those platforms face. Fake reviews facilitated by bots sometimes pop up but the company has software to take them down. With each normal review, there are 100+ data points that are picked up, making it easier to take down the ones that don’t follow this pattern.

As well, consumers are savvy enough to pick up what’s real and what isn’t. “Consumers don’t buy all perfect five-star reviews,” he explains. “We need to get away from this idea that perfect is very few five-star reviews, what is perfect is saying I have nothing to hide and I’m working with my customers to improve my business. That’s more honest.” 

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