Hunt for fake reviews on the internet: the rules finally tightened

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They are part of our daily life, the opinions and other stars which make it possible to evaluate the quality of a restaurant, a mechanic or other bookshop. However, we do not always know who is hiding behind. It is for this reason that the legislation has just been toughened.

The story is taken from the series black-mirror. In Season 3, one of the episodes depicts a dystopian society where everyone rates everyone else. Everyone has a score from 0 to 5. And behind this figure, there is indeed an objective: people who have the best scores can access specific services, which encourages everyone to have the best possible appreciation, leading to a kind of unhealthy competition.

We are not – yet – there. And yet, consumer reviews on the Internet are increasingly influencing the way we consume. According to an Ifop study carried out for Guest Suite in October 202175% of French people regularly consult customer reviews of companies to obtain information about their services.

It is in this context that a new European directive entered into force in French law on May 28th. It aims to toughen the penalties applicable to false reviews, in order to strengthen consumer protection. Businesses are now required to verify that reviews posted about their business are written by people who have used or purchased the product or service. Deceptive commercial practices are punishable by a fine of 300,000 euros and imprisonment for two years.

35% non-compliance

In his latest study published in 2017, the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) notes that 35% of online customer reviews were deemed “non-compliant”, in other words, false. And this type of offense concerns all sectors of activity: furniture, clothing, household appliances, catering, etc. Some professionals seek to restore the image of their brand by having rave reviews, even if they are fabricated from scratch.

But it is not just fake reviews that are the subject of particular attention by the DGCCRF, management notices other questionable practices, such as the fact of deleting all or part of negative consumer reviews to put forward those who are positive. Another common case is when review managers, companies that deal with comments left online on behalf of other companies, publish positive reviews very quickly and delay the publication of negative reviews.

The organization therefore works to detect these false opinions and “any practice implemented by a professional which allows him to falsely present himself as a consumer”. To do this, “the investigators rely in particular on a monitoring device on the Internet, as well as on the reports that consumers and professionals may have to make to us”. But “in order to preserve the ongoing investigations”, the DGCCRF does not wish to communicate more fully on the techniques used.

Added value

Beyond the turn of the screw on the legislation, Yannick Chatelain, associate professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management and specialist in new technologies, insists on the fact that the companies which will seize the subject head-on will be able to derive a real added value. “Today there are service providers who work to certify opinions because for a company this sends an image of trust to consumers, and that is a considerable competitive advantage”, he observes.

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Hunt for fake reviews on the internet: the rules finally tightened


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