Home / Politics / Policy /  Fines for fake online reviews might be on way

NEW DELHI : Stiff fines for fake online reviews and longevity ratings for electronic gadgets may be on the cards as the government seeks to protect consumers and ensure convenience.

A meeting called by the Union consumer affairs ministry on 14 September will discuss the menace of fake reviews, as well as the right to repair electronic appliances and standard device chargers, two officials said.

The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), which comes under the consumer affairs ministry, recently set up three expert groups to work on these issues.

“Guidelines will be issued for the entire sector, and we are willing to listen and accommodate the solutions that the industry is going to suggest," one of the two officials cited above said on the condition of anonymity.

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The committee on fake reviews prepared its report after several meetings with industry officials and other ministries, the second official said, adding the committee on common chargers will submit its report in about eight weeks.

The ministry will share the committee’s findings on fake reviews with the stakeholders at this week’s meeting.

“The guidelines on fake reviews will have a provision of fine for companies that are deploying bots to either get positive reviews for themselves or negative reviews for competitors. There have been a number of such complaints wherein fake reviews are used by companies against each other. The guidelines will have provisions under which stiff fines will be imposed. Upon investigation, if you are found to be on the wrong side of things, a fine will be imposed. We can take suo moto cognizance of cases that qualify for class action," the first official said.

Earlier this year, the consumer affairs department held a meeting with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and representatives of e-commerce platforms, including Flipkart and Amazon, to discuss possible measures to check growing fake reviews on e-commerce platforms that mislead consumers into buying online services or products.

The menace has been on the rise not just in India but also in Europe following a drastic shift to online shopping during covid-19. A survey in European Union showed that at least 55% of e-commerce platforms violate its unfair commercial practices directive, which requires presenting truthful information to consumers to make an informed choice. According to the European Commission (EC), in 144 of the 223 websites checked, the authorities could not confirm that traders were doing enough to ensure that reviews were authentic.

Apart from fake reviews, the government also wants to end the multiplicity of chargers for portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops by having uniform chargers which can be shared across devices. The European Union has proposed a similar law, mandating mobile device makers include a standard charging port for all devices.

On the draft guidelines on the right to repair, the first official said that the government is expecting a pushback as the industry fears that it could stifle innovation.

“But the industry needs to realize certain issues. These days, goods are made to fail. Phones don’t last for more than two-three years. Manufacturers need to evolve so that we can limit e-waste, and they need to make appliances that are environment-friendly. We are planning star ratings for longevity like there is for efficiency. If it is made to last longer, then the appliance will have a 5-star rating. The industry may say that this could stifle innovation, but we are working to find a solution," the official added.

A query sent to the consumer affairs ministry remained unanswered till press time.

The CCPA’s recent guidelines on restaurant service charges had met with widespread opposition, with the National Restaurant Association of India and the Federation of Hotels and Restaurant Associations of India challenging the move in courts.

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