The Digital Markets, Competition & Consumers Bill’s fake news on fake reviews
The pandemic was the catalyst in the rise of online shopping meaning that consumers rely heavily on online reviews, more so now than they used to. In fact, the Competition Markets Authority (CMA) previously reported it is likely that more than half of UK adults (54%) use online reviews, and that 6% use blogs or vlogs before making purchases, showing that reviews have a powerful influence over our purchasing decisions.
Unfortunately, this opportunity has not been missed by an increasing amount of rogue traders who have commissioned fake reviews written by third parties in order to benefit their business. It is safe to say that we have all been stung by a ‘too good to be true’ glowing review which has in fact turned out to be a rip-off purchase. The sad result of this is a deterioration in consumer confidence when purchasing online.
What will the Bill change?
Since the Bill’s announcement, there has been much talk about how the Bill will combat fake reviews. However (fake news alert!) the Bill itself does not specifically refer to any prohibitions or controls around spurious reviews. Instead, the Government will gain powers to add to, amend and delete the list of commercial practices that are automatically banned under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs).
The Government recognises the issues surrounding fake reviews and the need to restore consumer trust and protection. It seeks to exercise this new power, pinpointing that this will be an area of legislative focus during the passage of the Bill and aims to establish the following as new automatically banned practices under the CPRs:
- commissioning or incentivising someone to write and/or submit a fake consumer review;
- offering or advertising to submit, commission or facilitate fake reviews; and
- hosting reviews without taking reasonable and proportionate steps to check they are genuine.
What will these changes mean for businesses?
With any luck, if the above practices are accepted and determined as illegal the changes should go some way to stamping out rogue traders attempting to host, sell or purchase fake reviews.
However, the changes will have drastic implications for all online traders (even the good ones) that allow their customers to leave reviews on their platforms (because they will fall into the category of hosting reviews). If the additional banned practices are implemented, traders will owe a legal duty to consumers to take reasonable and proportionate steps to ensure that the reviews are genuine – instead of turning a blind eye to unscrupulous reviews. This will be a big task and internal changes to the business may be necessary to ensure diligent monitoring is undertaken in order to avoid breaching the law.
If not followed, there is a risk that such business could be at the receiving end of the new enforcement powers delegated to the CMA under the Bill, which includes significant financial penalties (e.g. £300,000 or, if higher, 10% of global turnover) – and not to mention, the immeasurable reputational damage that can be caused from public investigations by the regulators and the media.
If that is not convincing enough, it is safe to assume that investigations by the CMA are on the horizon especially following its investigation into two leading marketplace platforms over concerns that they are not taking enough action to tackle bogus reviews. It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the investigation is and what duties are placed on the marketplace operator – something not currently defined under consumer protection laws.
Going forward, traders will need to keep up to date with the passage of the Bill through Parliament to understand the full extent of its duties in respect of fake reviews.
If you would like to know more about the Bill, you may find our article which summarises other fundamental reforms the Bill seeks to introduce helpful.
1. Online reviews and endorsements (publishing.service.gov.uk)
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