A revealing article published in the Los Angeles Times on the Weedmaps' security breach generated a lot of buzz in the cannabis world. The don't-care attitude to the users' personal data played a low-down trick with the most popular website among weed consumers. The publicly available users' information let the LA Times journalists reveal that nearly 60% of customers' reviews were made from several IP addresses.
Though Weedmaps fixed its data breach shortly after the publishing of the article, the disclosed information had already cast doubt on the reliability of such popular dispensary locator tools as Weedmaps and Leafly.
While more and more medical and recreational marijuana users along with their doctors are relying on the customers' reviews from these websites in their choice of dispensaries, the sites seem to care more about the private businesses' interests than their users' ones.
According to Medical Jane, though an IP address is not enough to identify someone, it is enough to reveal a customer's physical address. Thus, it is an unpardonable blunder of the website to put its users' privacy at a risk.
Moreover, Andrew Komarov, chief intelligence officer at InfoArmor Inc., told the LA Times that any personal information of website users should be effectively secured.
This opinion is also supported by David Drake, CEO of Cannabis Reports, who recently accused Weedmaps and Leafly of having security breaches. He criticized the two companies saying that the way they handle users' personal data is completely inappropriate. In his speech at the industry conference in Los Angeles, Drake also expressed concerns about the safety of marijuana users and future generations. He fears that by placing intimate information about their health, users attract the attention of marketing and advertising companies who are only eager to make more money.
Despite personal data disclosing, Weedmaps is not likely to become a subject of legal complaints like Yelp was, according to Khurshid Khoja, a marijuana attorney in California.
However, the authenticity of customers' reviews on Weedmaps and similar sites caused even more concerns than problems with personal data security.
According to the LA Times, nearly 60% of dispensaries reviews on Weedmaps were generated from the same IP address. Moreover, with the help of a software developer, the Times revealed that 20% of reviews for 43 most-commented dispensaries originated from a single batch of users.
In return, Chris Beals, the president of Weedmaps Media Inc. tried to assure that the company is currently working on ways to automate the review system for bringing the feature up to the Internet standards.
However, the retailers in the marijuana sector had mixed reactions to the Times' findings. While some companies expressed their bellicose attitude, others defended the Weedmaps' practice.
For instance, Zachary Lazarus, chief operating officer of A Green Alternative, San Diego, told Marijuana Business Daily that “Weedmaps has always been manipulating and posting reviews multiple times with IP addresses from the same individuals.”
However, some retailers tend to keep silent about their dispensary reviews on Weedmaps because they are more than interested in a positive review.
The problem of fake reviews on Weedmaps may also be caused by dispensaries' incentives that make weed customers write positive comments to increase their rank on the sites like Leafly and Weedmaps. Some dispensaries even offer their customers a discount or free products in exchange for positive feedback on Weedmaps.
According to Matt Price, CEO of Medical Jane, new cannabis businesses want to become popular in short periods and use the patients' ability to rely on customers' review for increasing their service's credibility.
Moreover, dispensaries can also use their power to delete negative reviews from their listings on Weedmaps. Customers' complaints on cannabis forums like Reddit are vivid evidence of how their accounts suffer after publishing negative comments on Weedmaps.
However, after analyzing the dispensaries rates on Weedmaps, Norman Scoullar, software developer, told the LA Times: “Without patients that trust the industry, there is no market for dispensaries or listing services and people slowly go back to the black market.”
Unfortunately, the industry reality shows that cannabis users' privacy and well-being are not priorities for marijuana businesses nowadays.