Almost two-thirds of reviews on online shops, marketplaces, booking websites, search engines and comparison service sites analysed by European authorities are unreliable.
In more than half of the cases, authorities could not confirm that traders were doing enough to ensure that reviews were authentic, according to an EU-wide screening of 223 websites by the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities of which the results were released on Thursday.
“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,” Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, stated in a press release.
Authentic reviews should be posted by consumers that actually used the product or service that they reviewed. Other consumers often rely on reviews when they make purchasing decisions, according to a 2020 Market Monitoring Survey, especially when choosing holiday accommodation or shopping for clothes.
“Online businesses must provide consumers with clear and visible information on the reliability of such reviews. Today’s results are a clear call for action. We will ensure EU law is respected.”
Collecting of reviews
The screening of the websites found that almost half of all company websites fail to inform consumers how reviews are collected and processed.
Just 84 websites make this information easily accessible to consumers on the review page itself, while others mention it in “small print”, for example in their legal terms and conditions.
More than half of traders fail to inform customers of how they are actively preventing fake reviews, meaning they themselves are not able to verify whether reviews were written by consumers that actually used the product or service.
A majority also did not mention whether reviews were incentivised (leaving a positive review for a reward).
Taking action to protect consumers
Overall, consumer protection authorities concluded that at least 55% of the analysed websites potentially violate the EU’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), which requires online traders to present truthful information to ensure consumers can make an informed choice.
In response to these findings, the national authorities, under the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) which is responsible for the enforcement of EU consumer protection laws, stated they will contact traders who were in violation of the law and will initiate enforcement actions according to national procedures if needed.
An update in the directive, coming into force at the end of May 2022, will make enforcement easier by explicitly providing that selling, buying and submitting false consumer reviews to promote products is prohibited and will include a clear obligation to inform consumers about how reviews are gathered.