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I will pay you to give this blog five stars

Online customer reviews of products and services have become increasingly important in the marketplace. Many consumers rely on them to decide what to buy or where to buy it, and many businesses rely on them to attract customers and stand out from the crowd. That was true even before the pandemic hit, and it’s even truer now.

Consumers should be able to trust that these reviews reflect the honest opinions of real customers. But some companies abuse that trust by writing or providing false or misleading reviews, including reviews that tout their own products or criticize those of honest competitors. This type of abuse harms consumers and, if left unchecked, could also cause them to completely lose faith in reviews, which would be bad for everyone. Additionally, it distorts the market by putting honest companies at a disadvantage that are trying to earn their stars in the right way.

That’s why the FTC is issuing new guidelines for businesses on online reviews. It is important that everyone responsible for soliciting, collecting and posting reviews does their best to ensure that consumers do not receive misleading reviews about a company’s products and services. This will help businesses stay on the right side of the law and build trust.

The FTC has been active in the reviews business for years, bringing a number of lawsuits against individuals responsible for both false and misleading reviews and the removal of honest reviews. The latest move is a just-announced deal with online retailer Fashion Nova. We also used our recently revitalized Criminal Offenses Authority to issue a Criminal Offenses Notice to over 700 businesses, warning them of the consequences of misleading consumers with recommendations and reviews. Other international regulators and bodies have also been active, using their own unique expertise, experience and tools. We have worked with them for years and applaud their efforts. For example, in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority works to crack down on the illegal buying and selling of reviews.

Today, we are also releasing two new publications with guidance for businesses on reviews, both based on the principles of Section 5 of the FTC Act. One concerns websites and platforms that collect, moderate and publish reviews. The other is for marketers who may solicit or pay for reviews of their own products and services.

The guidance document for platforms advises that, regardless of the business model, they should, among other things:

  • Prioritize transparency in how they process reviews
  • identify incentives and material links between vendors and reviewers
  • treat positive and negative reviews equally
  • have reasonable processes in place to identify false or misleading reviews
  • have effective reporting mechanisms that consumers and businesses can use

The guidance document for marketers is designed for businesses that want to increase the number of reviews for their business on third-party websites and platforms. It focuses on how they solicit customer reviews, use other companies that offer to improve their online reputation, and pay companies for supposed expert reviews and rankings on comparison websites.

The FTC’s work on customer reviews is part of its broader efforts to combat deception in the ever-changing landscape of online advertising, including the growing use of social media influencers to sell products and services. We use and consider all the tools at our disposal – including law enforcement, rulemaking, collaborating with others, and education – in this effort. This multi-faceted approach is reflected not only in the announcement of the Fashion Nova affair and these educational pieces, but also in letters to companies that may be engaged in a potentially misleading practice known as “review-gating”. “. Stay tuned. You will hear more from the FTC on this topic.


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