The popular beer rating site quietly sold a minority stake in 2016. Now the other shoe has dropped.
Worrying about conflicts of interest doesn’t seem to be as popular as it once was, but typically, when a conflict of interest exists, it’s pretty clear why it could be a problem. For example, here’s a wild hypothetical: Let’s say you were the largest brewing company in the world, and you became the sole owner of one of the largest community-driven beer rating sites in the world. Though those two things could exist without any impropriety, it’s also very easy to see how it could be problematic — not just for the obvious reason of manipulating ratings, but also for less obvious reasons like determining how items are listed or search functionality. A lot of little things could be done (as well as big things) to push your products more than your competitors.
And so, though ZX Ventures — a division of Anheuser-Busch InBev — has insisted it has done nothing to tinker with the integrity of the crowdsourced beer rating platform RateBeer since it first bought a minority stake in the site back in 2016, today RateBeer announced it has been fully acquired by AB InBev. As a result, if you had a minor amount of worry about potential issues in the past, you’re now allowed to have a full amount of worry.
“While this won’t impact the day-to-day for anyone using on the site,” RateBeer's Executive Director Joe Tucker began, downplaying the news (as has been the case in the past), “I wanted to let you all know that ZX Ventures, a division of AB InBev, has fully acquired RateBeer.”
“After ZX Ventures took a minority investment in RateBeer, we were able to make improvements to infrastructure, put out an in-house mobile app, and modernize key pages that as the only full-time employee with help from some amazing admins and volunteer coders, I was never able to tackle,” Tucker continued, explaining the slow sellout. Later, however, he touches on the biggest question that now lingers. “RateBeer is a quality-focused organization, and our value to the community has always depended on our integrity, and willingness to put in greater effort to produce more meaningful scores and information.”
Frankly, it’s a bit of a vague statement at a time when users would probably prefer to hear a more firm assertion that the new corporate overlords won’t be given any wiggle room to tinker with a site that some people have been rating beers on for nearly two decades.
“Might not necessarily ruin the integrity of RateBeer, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable that a beer company owns a formerly independent rating site/app,” a user wrote on rival rating site BeerAdvocate. “It's like Holiday Inn owning a hotel rating site, or Applebees owning a restaurant rating site. Just doesn't seem appropriate.” He makes a very valid point: Integrity or not, the optics for RateBeer — and for AB InBev — look terrible.