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Trustpilot: pretend they're Superman, actually Homelander!

Simon B

25 Jan 20246 min read • Corporate Social Responsibility, News, Reviews

I created Krystal to provide an alternative to corporations that pursue profit without ethics. I figured that by offering an honest, reliable and personal choice (that was also superior) I could show that there was a better way to do business - a way that benefits customers, society and the planet.

Since then I’ve followed my own moral compass, doing what I feel is right and calling out those I consider not acting in society’s best interests. (The PublicBenefit.UK campaign to restore Nominet’s original purpose offers reasonable proof of my intent.)

For many years I've thought that Trustpilot is a protection racket dressed up as a consumer advocacy group. They pretend they're Superman but they're actually Homelander, putting on a front of being good and noble while actually being aggressive (and possibly underhand) behind the scenes.

Trustpilot’s business model relies on getting the general public to review companies they use (for free), then monetising said reviews by having companies pay to use and manage them. Once a company is reviewed on Trustpilot, it CANNOT remove itself - it’s forced to take part in Trustpilot’s service. This distinctly shady modus operandi is earning them a reputation for being extortionists.

How effective is this business model / racket? Well, they turned over $150 MILLION in 2022.

The beef between Krystal and Trustpilot

Despite my misgivings about Trustpilot, their star rating system is currently one of the most popular ways of evidencing your client experience. We highlight our 1,700 genuine 5-star client reviews on our website to help potential Krystal clients make an educated choice.

However, Trustpilot has now effectively started to blackmail us by placing a warning sign over our reviews because, in their words, "We’ve found out that this company is breaching our terms of use with the way they’re displaying Trustpilot content."

Krystal Trustpilot header

But are we really?

We’ll fight them on the breaches

Trustpilot wrote to us a few months back, annoyed that we weren't paying them anything to display the reviews our clients write (and own) and that, heaven forbid we were using a GREEN box with a WHITE STAR in it! They cited that we were infringing their trademarks.

Of course, these are common everyday items that for practical reasons companies cannot own the exclusive rights to. You can see from the image below that neither the green nor the white stars we use on our site are the same as Trustpilot’s own version. In fact, people have been using green stars to represent review ratings long before Trustpilot was around.

Krystal client reviews screenshot

Naturally, I asked for clarification. My request was as follows:

"Thank you for getting in touch. Please could you be more specific as to what element(s) of our website are, in your opinion, in contravention of your terms?

Repeatedly in your terms I note that the ownership of the wording of the reviews remains the property of the reviewer, not Trustpilot. I assume you're not purporting to claim ownership of the content of the reviews on your site...? If the content of the reviews is not your intellectual property, one assumes that any rating given is also not your property, as that is inherently part of the customer's review.

The green stars we use on our site are both a different colour green and a different shape to the stars used on your site. I presume you're not claiming IP over all stars or the colour green?"

I got back the below image (yellow highlighted by them) which seems to contradict itself:

Trustpilot terms screenshot

According to this, the reviews are owned by the reviewers who created them, but I have to have Trustpilot’s permission to publish them on our site. I’m pretty sure I don't.

Basically, Trustpilot wants us to pay them for the reviews our clients have written (and own) and because we won’t, they’ve thrown their rattle out of the pram and have accused us of infringing their trademarks and breaking their terms of service.

But, it’s our website, on the internet, and Trustpilot admit themselves they don’t own the reviews. Now, I’m not a lawyer but it doesn’t feel like they’ve got much of a case here.

Thinking outside the TrustBox?

I got fed up of being the target of an attempted shakedown, so I called out Trustpilot publicly on Linkedin. They replied with an attempt at an explanation of their “terms and reasoning” for only allowing the displaying of reviews through their bloated and janky “TrustBox” widgets.

Displaying Trustpilot reviews without using our TrustBox widgets on a business site means that this could potentially mislead customers, as the business has complete control over what can be displayed. By using our TrustBox widgets, we can ensure that the reviews displayed on a business's site are genuine and this also indicates that the business truly cares about its customers by helping them make more informed purchase decisions.

Whilst it's true that the reviewers own their reviews, all reviewers allow us to use these reviews in a range of ways when signing up to our platform, including how they're displayed (highlighted in section 8 of our user terms here).

Okay, so that all sounds very reasonable, right? Until you realise that by default the "TrustBox" isn't even an option unless you pay!

That's right, when you don't pay (for the content Trustpilot got for free) you have zero options to display it, according to their terms! Literally, none.

I presented them with a screenshot in case somehow they weren’t aware that they were trying to gaslight, while pretending to be ever-so-reasonable.

Trustpilot Website Widgets screenshot

Now, call me sceptical, but I DEEPLY suspect that the real reason Trustpilot insists on people using a "TrustBox" isn't to prevent pesky companies like mine "misleading" consumers (as we link back to the reviews on Trustpilot’s site) but because the company is in financial trouble. Seems like a stretch? Well, consider how far Trustpilot is going to squeeze reluctant client-companies. They’ve recently announced that unless you pay them you won’t even be able to use HTML in your own company description! If this isn’t a shakedown I don't know what is! Remember that most companies are added automatically and cannot remove themselves…

Trustpilot company description page screenshot

Time for a change

A number of individuals responded to my LinkedIn post to indicate that they’d been contacted by TP to pay for services and shortly after declining the offer had a spate of spurious 1 star reviews. While difficult to prove if it was the case that Trustpilot was involved in activity designed to damage a company’s reputation to profit from it, that would be a new low.

It's the aggression and demonstrable gaslighting that really angers me. An army of unscrupulous reps is going around trying to wring money out of companies that have no option but to be listed on their site. What makes it particularly insidious is that all of this is done under the false pretence of somehow being a force for good. No, you’re not, you’re more like a protection racket for the digital era weaponising content you didn’t create to extort small businesses, and you should stop these practices immediately.

After many years tolerating this crummy behaviour I’ve finally decided to blog and talk about it in the hope it will force a change. I even wrote a review about how bad Trustpilot is on Trustpilot! I don’t expect Trustpilot will change. But if a SINGLE company that’s now paying them money reads this and cancels their subscription that would be a result. Perhaps if the money slows down they’ll reevaluate their behaviour.

I promised Trustpilot a while ago that I’d never pay them a penny again as I refuse to be extorted. I’ve been hearing good things about Reviews.io so I'm going to check them out and see if we can move wholesale.

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts and experiences on Trustpilot. Do you pay for their service? Did you feel like you had to? Are there any lawyers that might have a take on this? It would be great to continue the conversation on LinkedIn.

Speaking of LinkedIn, I’m increasingly active on there and I’ll be publishing more content throughout 2024 about the place of better business in creating a better world. I’m also always happy to connect with Krystal clients, prospects, and anyone who shares my belief that business can benefit society and the planet. So, please feel free to connect with me and/or send me a message. See you there, and thanks for reading!

About the author

Simon B

In 2002, frustrated by poor service and bad business practices, I created Krystal to provide an “Honest, Reliable & Personal” alternative to the large faceless hosting corporations. We’re in business because we’re passionate about technology & solving problems.

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