Monday, March 4

When user opinions on web pages raise suspicion

Consumers often rely on reviews when shopping. According to European Commission Market Monitoring Survey 2020, 71% of the people surveyed consider that published opinions are important when choosing a holiday accommodation, for example. As a consequence, the European Commission and the EU countries –plus Iceland and Norway– have decided to carry out their sweep about deceptive practices in relation to online reviews on 223 major websites.

Thus, the study has found that two thirds of online stores, marketplaces, the reservation websites, search engines and comparison service sites analyzed raised doubts about the reliability of the reviews: in 144 of the 223 verified websites, the authorities could not confirm that these websites were doing enough to ensure that reviews are authentic, or that they were posted by consumers who actually used the product or service they were reviewing.

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: “Consumers often rely on reviews when buying or booking onine. I don’t want consumers to be misled: businesses on-line they must provide consumers with clear and visible information about the reliability of such reviews. Today’s results are a clear call to action.”

According to the study, 104 of the 223 websites examined do not inform consumers about how reviews are collected and processed. And only 84 websites make such information available to consumers on the review page itself, while the rest mention it in fine print, for example in their legal terms and conditions.

A total of 118 sites out of 223 did not contain information on how to prevent fake reviews. In these cases, consumers have no way to verify whether the reviews were written by consumers who actually used the product or service.

Furthermore, 176 of the 223 websites analyzed do not mention that incentivized reviews, resulting from a monetary reward, for example, are prohibited by their internal policy or, if not, how they ensure they are marked as incentivized.

In short, the consumer protection authorities concluded that at least 55% of the websites analyzed potentially violate the directive on unfair commercial practices, which requires that truthful information be presented to consumers so that they can make informed choices. Authorities also had doubts about another 18%.

From here, the national consumer authorities will contact the companies in question to rectify their websites and, if necessary, initiate enforcement actions in accordance with their national procedures.