The UK is warning of tough new penalties for writing or hosting fake reviews, including fines of up to 10 per cent of global turnover.
Sites hosting reviews will have to take reasonable steps to check they are genuine, and businesses will be specifically prohibited from paying for fake reviews. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is to be given new powers to enforce the rules by directly imposing financial penalties and awarding compensation, rather than forcing complainants to go through the courts.
The announcement also covers ‘subscription traps’, in which businesses make it difficult to exit a contract. They will now be required to provide clearer information to consumers before they enter a subscription contract, and allow them to exit a contract in a straightforward, cost-effective and timely way.
They must also issue a reminder to consumers that a free trial or low-cost introductory offer is coming to an end, as well as a reminder before a contract auto-renews onto a new term.
“No longer will you visit a five-star-reviewed restaurant only to find a burnt lasagne or get caught in a subscription in which there’s no end in sight,” says consumer minister Paul Scully.
“Consumers deserve better, and the majority of businesses out there doing the right thing deserve protection from rogue traders undermining them.”
The move follows a CMA investigation launched last summer into Amazon and Google. The CMA was concerned that the companies were doing too little to detect misleading reviews or suspicious patterns of behavior, or to remove them when found.
However, earlier this year, an investigation by consumer group Which? found that fake reviews were still rife in the UK, with Facebook groups with hundreds of thousands of members acting as ‘review factories’, offering refunds for Amazon products in exchange for five-star reviews.
“It’s very positive to see action to tackle the avalanche of fake reviews that undermine confidence in online shopping and tougher powers for the CMA to protect consumers from rogue companies that consistently flout the law – including the ability to fine firms directly,” says Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy.
“The impact of these rip-off practices is enormous. It is currently a far too complicated and lengthy process for the CMA to hold businesses to account.” The new measures will form part of a Consumer and Competition Bill to be announced in next month’s Queen’s Speech.