Home / Industry / Retail /  Fake reviews may land online vendors in consumer courts

NEW DELHI : E-commerce companies and eateries will have to ensure that the online reviews of their products and services are genuine, and their authors verifiable, under a new government framework to counter fake reviews released on Monday. The new guidelines, outlined by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) will take effect on 25 November.

Under the framework, the e-commerce company or restaurant will have to develop a code of practice, necessary terms and conditions for accessibility, and ensure that the content does not contain financial information. The organization will have to monitor online reviews.

“It is not a judicial order. We developed a framework and we want e-commerce entities to adopt and adhere to the standard. If an organization wants to check if its website is adhering to the BIS standards, it can go to BIS and get it checked and certified," consumer affairs secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said at a press conference.

“But if they do not do it and indulge in unfair trade practices, then under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) or a consumer court can take penal action. CCPA usually treats such cases as a ‘class’ and the consumer commission as individual cases."

The guidelines provide for ways to ‘verify a review author’ through email, telephone or text message to confirm the registration, or by clicking a link, and using a captcha system, to establish genuineness, the Centre added.

Disclosure is an important factor on the basis of which the standards for online reviews under IS19000:2022 are developed. All the organizations will have to be transparent about the methodology used to rate the products, Singh said.

“For instance, if a product gets a 4-5 stars rating, the organization will have to inform the period in which the data was collected, and if an average was calculated. The framework will have provisions to protect the reviewer’s identity that should not be revealed without permission," he said.

Paid reviews will have to mandatorily carry a mark to distinguish them from others, Singh added. “We were getting complaints that fake reviews have become a menace. The US FTC has also said that they will explore rule-making to curb fake reviews. Some countries are making rules, and some are making legal provisions, but we are the first country to make a standard. We are taking the standards route. We don’t want to bulldoze the industry."

Reviews posted online play a significant role in purchasing decisions and consumers rely significantly on reviews posted on e-commerce platforms for first-hand experiences and opinions of those who have purchased the item or service, the consumer affairs ministry said.

Noting the impact of fake reviews and to protect consumer interest on e-commerce sites, the consumer affairs department constituted a committee for developing a framework on checking fake and deceptive reviews on 10 June. The committee included various stakeholders, including e-commerce companies, industry associations, consumer organizations and law chairs, the ministry added.

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