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Angie's List favors its own advertisers, consumer group warns

  • The Consumer Federation of America says online rating service Angie's List gives preferential treatment to businesses that advertise with the site.
  • Angie's List presents consumers with a list of "top-rated pros" that consist solely of the company's advertisers, the group says.
  • It's not the first time Angie's List has been accused of favoring advertisers -- Consumer Reports made a similar claim several years ago. 

Angie's List offers preferential treatment to businesses that advertise with the popular rating service, consumer advocates said Monday.

Users of the website are presented with lists of recommended "top-rated pros" that consist solely of Angie's List advertisers -- even those that aren't highly ranked, a study by the Consumer Federation of America found. Angie's List also passes along contact information for consumers to its advertisers, which can then directly market their services to them. That can include lobbying users to delete negative reviews, CFA found.

"[T]he content and presentation of information on the Angie's List website appears to be strongly influenced by the company's dependence on advertising by companies being evaluated," according to the group's report.  

The idea behind Angie's List and other review sites is to collect many people's experiences using a business or other service, with Angie's List members able to access more than 10 million consumer reviews. When Angie's List launched in 1995, users paid a subscription fee to find a general contractor, plumber or other local business geared to looking after your home. Purchased by IAC/Interactive Corp. in 2017, the service is now free and supported by ads placed by the very businesses it reviews.

Ignore recommended companies

The recommendation site still offers valuable information to homeowners or apartment dwellers looking for help, but they need to be cautious, Stephen Brobeck, a CFA senior fellow and co-author of the report, told reporters in a call to publicize the group's report.

"If you use Angie's List, ignore their recommended companies," said Brobeck, who advised looking solely at "A-rated" services providers with at least 25 reviews.

CFA recommends that consumers consult a range of sources when looking for a reputable business, including the nonprofit Consumers' Checkbook (CFA is affiliated with the group). "When these organizations are not available, shoppers can benefit by consulting a variety of information sources, including the detailed consumer comments on Angie's List," stated Brobeck.

Angie's List said it was "disappointed with the many inaccuracies" in the report. "It is incorrect to assume that because part of our revenue is generated through advertising that our reviews are anything but fair and impartial," a spokesperson for the company emailed. "Companies that pass our certification process are allowed to advertise."

Further, the spokesperson denied that Angie's List gives away consumers' data without their permission. "When a customer wants a direct connection with a pro, they can opt-in to direct outreach from available pros."

Angie's List has faced accusations of bias toward its advertisers before. Consumer Reports found in 2013 that the company's system set up a tilt toward positive reviews.