There are a number of review platforms such as Trip Advisor, Product Review and Urban Spoon, that effectively collect and republish consumer comments, criticisms and praise on various goods and services.
Unfortunately, many are riddled with fake reviews.
Hence, the ACCC has released a new set of guidelines that target fake online reviews of goods and services to reduce the risk of consumers being duped.
So what is the purpose and focus of these guidelines?
The ACCC has published these best practice guidelines for online review platforms to adopt to ensure that consumers who log on to these websites are not misled by fake reviews and are able to reach better informed decisions.
They also advocate transparency, particularly in relation to any commercial relationships that an online review platforms may have with an individual business which could influence what is posted about that business in terms of positive and negative reviews.
The core of the ACCC guidelines is directed to the principle that there should not be any fake reviews posted or published and that platforms shouldn’t publish positive reviews of a business due to a commercial relationship with that business.
Equally, businesses shouldn’t post fake reviews their own business or any competitor’s business and should not pay any third party to write positive reviews of goods or services.
There’s also this suggestion that review platforms should not remove negative reviews unless of course it can be substantiated that the review in question is incorrect.
Are these guidelines enough to combat fake reviews?
The guidelines are helpful but they are certainly not enough to combat fake reviews, because firstly, they are only best practice principles not mandatory legal requirements.
Secondly, the guidelines are limited in their application to Australia whereas a number of online review platforms are based offshore and outside the ACCC’s jurisdiction.
Furthermore, the guidelines do not address a number of misleading features of online review platforms which is a little disappointing. For example, no account is taken of the fact that the vast bulk of customers never post any reviews so you never get a full picture.
How can companies comply with these guidelines?
It’s really simple, don’t write fake reviews about your own business or a competitor and certainly don’t hire public relations firms to write fake reviews for you on these platforms.
You can offer incentive to genuine customers to write reviews, but make sure the incentives are available to consumers regardless of whether their review is positive or negative.