Fake or misleading reviews are everywhere: nearly three-quarters of European websites violate the rules with unreliable, or in any case questionable, reviews. The European Union want to crack down on the issue.
Fake or real? Impossible to know
A large majority of European websites publish fake or unreliable reviews, the European Commission concluded from a study it performed with national consumer protection authorities. The study screened 223 major websites in 28 countries last year, and found out that as many as 55 % of the reviewed websites violated existing European legislation governing unfair commercial practices. In another 18 % of the cases, the authorities had their doubts.
The biggest problem is a lack of transparency: for most webshops, marketplaces, booking sites and comparison sites, you cannot know whether the reviews are genuine. For 144 out of the 223 websites studied, the authorities could not confirm that traders are doing enough to ensure authentic reviews. In theory, a review is a legitimate customer review only when consumers have actually used the product or service and then write an (unpaid) review about it.
However, more than half of the websites do not specify how the reviews are collected and processed. The sites also usually do not say how they try to prevent fake reviews or deal with paid reviews. Are people allowed to post paid reviews? And how can consumers distinguish them from other reviews? 176 out of the 223 sites say nothing about this.
Europe tightens rules
European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders recognises a clear need for action. “Consumers very often rely on online reviews when shopping or booking online. I don’t want consumers to be tricked. I want them to be able to interact in a trustworthy environment”, he said.
Reynders insists that e-commerce companies provide straightforward and visible information on the reliability of reviews. “We will ensure EU law is respected”, the Belgian Commissioner warns. The national authorities will contact investigated retailers that do not comply with the rules.
As of May this year, an additional directive will be in force that explicitly states that selling, buying and submitting false consumer reviews to promote products is prohibited. In addition, companies are now obliged to inform consumers about how they handle reviews.