Consumers who purchase goods and services often rely heavily on aggregated online reviews. Platforms such as Google, Tripadvisor and Yelp allow consumers to rate a business using a five star rating system. Businesses can operate pages on these platforms where they can manage and respond to these reviews. These reviews allow potential consumers to quickly assess the quality of the good or service they seek by relying on the consensus of other users. On the other hand, businesses benefit from quality reviews as they establish legitimacy and transparency. But it is important to be aware of any obligation you have under law regarding how you manage these reviews.
What regulations apply?
When managing and curating reviews, businesses are subject to the Australian Consumer Law. This imposes an obligation for businesses to remove fake or misleading reviews from their platform. Misleading reviews arise when a reviewer has a vested interest in providing a particular rating. This includes situations where:
- The business or people associated with business reviews themselves
- A competitor of the business or platform provides an overtly negative review
- A non user of the service provides a review after they have received a benefit
- Automated reviewers are generated by bots
In 2011, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission issued a $6000 infringement notice to removalist business which was found to have copied testimonials from another business to it’s website.
How do I know a review is fake?
Indicators of fake or automated reviews include
- A rapid increase in reviews across a limited timeframe
- Reviews originating from a single IP address using multiple accounts
- Reviews that contain similar language phrases or poor english
- Reviews that either extremely positive or extremely negative and frequently mention competitors or similar products/services
Can I remove/edit reviews?
Unless a review is explicitly misleading or fake, you cannot selectively remove or edit reviews for commercial benefit. You can respond to the review to address any concerns left by the reviewer. If the review was posted on a platform, you can request the platform remove the review if you believe it is false or misleading. Businesses should be confident that the review was actually fake or misleading and not merely negative if they seek to remove it.
What if the review is defamatory?
A review is defamatory if it is not the reviewers honest opinion but was made with malicious intent to cause harm to the business. It is often difficult to prove whether or not a review was made with this intent if it was posted on an online platform. It is recommended you seek legal advice if pursuing a defamation claim.
What should businesses do?
- Create an internal process or policy procedures for managing and responding to reviews
- Actively monitor review pages for false reviews
- If you offer incentives for reviews, make sure the incentivise is granted incentivise regardless if the review is posted or negative
- Disclose any partnerships or commercial relationships with review platforms
- Prevent people associated with the business from directly reviewing the business
- Do not solicit services that offer automated reviews