Buying online has become a very widespread behaviour, but almost all consumers continue to refer to online reviews of other consumers about a certain product or service before buying.
But what would you do if you knew that most web pages contain fake reviews?
on January 20, 2022, the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities released the results of an EU-wide website screening (“sweep”) on online consumer reviews, bringing to light some alarming conclusions: a big number of websites contain reviews that are not authentic because they were posted by consumers that do not use the product or service that they reviewed.
In this respect, the competent authorities in charge of this investigation have concluded that the 55% of screened websites violate EU law.
How this practice violates EU law?
The main European legal act that is being violated with these practices is the Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market (Unfair Commercial Practices Directive).
Accordingly, there are a series of actions or omissions by these websites that infringe the provisions of EU law.
These websites do not make the information about how reviews are collected and processed accessible for the consumers in the legal terms and conditions.
Moreover, they do not contain information about how fake reviews are prevented, to help consumers to verify if the reviews are written by real consumers that used the product or the service.
We also know how the trend of incentivized ads and reviews for a profit has grown since certain people or influencers are offered something in return to promote or comment on a product or service. These websites should mention if they do not make use of incentivized reviews due to their internal company policy. As well as, they should inform how they detect a review as an incentivised one.
The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive requires that truthful information is presented to consumers to allow an informed choice and to avoid misleading “advertising”, as I believe that including false reviews encourages consumers to buy a product or service that does not meet the characteristics mentioned in those reviews.
Article 6(1) of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, while detailing a series of actions and omissions that are understood as practices that can influence the consumer to decide that he would not make if he knew the reality about that product or service, also expressly states that “A commercial practise shall be regarded as misleading if it contains false information and is therefore untruthful or in any way, including overall presentation, deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer or is likely to cause him to take a transactional decision that he would not have taken otherwise”
For its part, article 7 of the aforementioned directive related to misleading omissions, also condemns the lack of information necessary for the consumer to be informed and thus make a correct decision. In this specific case, we find room for the lack of information about how the online reviews are collected and processed, how these fake reviews are prevented and if they use or do not incentivize reviews.
As a way to give a more specific legal coverage to this issue, a new paragraph 6, which establishes that “where a trader provides access to consumer reviews of products, information about whether and how the trader ensures that the published reviews originate from consumers who have used or purchased the product shall be regarded as material”, has been inserted in this article 7 by the Directive (EU) 2019/2161 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 November 2019 amending Council Directive 93/13/EEC and Directives 98/6/EC, 2005/29/EC and 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and the Council as regards the better enforcement and modernisation of Union consumer protection rules (Better Enforcement and Modernisation Directive), to clarify some points of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.
Furthermore, this Better Enforcement and Modernisation Directive has made it clear that it is prohibited to sell and submit false consumer reviews to promote products or services. It establishes also the obligation for the Member States to apply all the necessary measures, that they adopted and informed the European Commission to comply with its provisions, starting from 28 May 2022.
Protecting consumer rights, one of the essential tasks to which the EU is dedicated, is a fundamental right of great and growing importance. Therefore, extreme and effective protection is needed to deal with the continuous commercial changes. Thus, it is entrusted by the treaty on the functioning of the EU, especially, in article 169, which commends the EU promote the interests of consumers, their right to information and their health, safety and economic interests.
Fake online reviews should be treated seriously, as more and more consumers buy online and the practice of fake reviews is becoming increasingly worldly, so, it is important to tackle the problem by asking the companies to introduce verification processes to prove that customers have purchased from the business before reviewing it. Moreover, other alternatives must be created by companies, such as enabling an email survey for customers after making a purchase, without offering a benefit in return.
In conclusion, review sites should comply with the mentioned Directives and, consequently, clearly state how reviews are obtained and treated, as well as publish all the reviews, including the negative ones.
Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market and amending Council Directive 84/450/EEC, Directives 97/7/EC, 98/27/EC and 2002/65/EC of the European Parliament and the Council and Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 of the European Parliament and the Council (‘Unfair Commercial Practices Directive). DO L 149 de 11.6.2005, p. 22/39.
Directive (EU) 2019/2161 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 November 2019 amending Council Directive 93/13/EEC and Directives 98/6/EC, 2005/29/EC and 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and the Council as regards the better enforcement and modernisation of Union consumer protection rules. PE/83/2019/REV/1 OJ L 328, 18.12.2019, p. 7–28.
Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)  OJ C202/1.
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