Finance

This is how the ban on fake reviews at online stores works

1. What is a fake review?

These are, for example, reviews from people who do not exist, or from consumers who get part of their money back in exchange for writing a review. This is a persistent problem that has been complained about for years because many people base their purchase in part on the experiences of others. If these are too rosy, it will lead to disappointment.

A study by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM) shows that almost half of the consumers who sometimes post a review, have received a reward or had a chance to do so in exchange for posting the review.

A third of those surveyed said there was a chance of winning a prize in exchange for a positive review, according to the regulator’s 2017 survey.

Furthermore, a third has experienced that reviews were posted with great delay, or that they were contacted after they had written a review, according to the same study.

2. How is that handled?

By May next year at the latest, a European directive that labels the use of fake reviews as misleading must be incorporated into the legislation of all EU countries.

Companies must then check whether reviews on their site are genuine. From May 2022, they must be able to prove to ACM that the reviews are genuine and how this has been checked.

Webshops will soon also have to inform consumers about whether and how they know for sure that a published review is indeed from other consumers and that they have actually used or bought the product, Bierlings said.

Bol.com says that probably next month only customers who have purchased an item from the webshop will be able to post a review. The company can easily check this, because the it system can verify that a particular customer has purchased that product.

If you do use a product, but have not bought it at Bol.com, you will no longer be able to give a review. After all, it is impossible to check whether you have actually used a certain product, according to the webshop.

3. Who’s going to check it?

ACM can ask web shops to provide insight if we suspect that there are fake reviews, said Saskia Bierling, spokesperson for the regulator. “This can be done, for example, on the basis of complaints from consumers or competitors, or as a result of reports in the media. We can also conduct our own research,” says Bierling.

ACM already monitors whether online stores are not guilty of deception, but that is still based on a more general rule against deception. The new rules explicitly state which rules apply if you offer users the opportunity to post reviews, Bierling says.

4. Will it work?

The new rules will make it a lot easier to enforce, expects Gerard Spierenburg, spokesperson for the Consumers’ Association. “Penals can be higher, which has a deterrent effect.”

However, everything stands or falls with the actions of the supervisor, he adds. “Fake reviews are a widespread phenomenon and I don’t expect it to be resolved overnight,” Spierenburg says. It is also “not very easy” to determine whether a review is fake or not, “otherwise consumers could make that distinction too.”

It will also be very difficult for companies to prove that a review is genuine, thinks Niels Ista, corporate law and ICT law lawyer at accountants and consultancy organization Abab. The new rules could also mean that smaller companies decide to stop posting reviews on their site, he expects.

There will also be a positive effect for consumers. “If companies such as Bol.com start applying these kinds of filters, it will be a lot easier to distinguish fake reviews,” explains Ista.

“But I don’t have the illusion that all companies will take these kinds of measures,” says Ista. He thinks that smaller companies that still have few reviews and that you can’t find very well online, will continue to use fake reviews.

5. How do you recognize fake reviews?

Reviews that are stimulated, for example by the chance to win something, contain different language characteristics, says Lotte Willemsen, lecturer in Communication in a Network Society at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.

It mainly concerns language features that are intended to convince people, she says. Think of several exclamation marks in succession, or more blank lines, so that a review is clearer and therefore more attractive. Also, the writers of this try harder to make it look good, because they are rewarded for it.

Furthermore, claims of authority (I am an expert), emotional arguments (I love this product) and also less rational arguments that go into the specifications of the product should ring a bell, says Willemsen.

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