Two-thirds of reviews found online are unreliable – Odette Vella

A EU wide website verification carried out by the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities revealed that nearly two-thirds of online shops, booking sites, search engines and comparators did not have reliable reviews.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said the screening exercise was triggered because “consumers very often rely on online reviews when buying or booking online”. Reynders argued that when shopping online, consumers should be able to interact in a trustworthy environment, where online businesses provide consumers with clear and visible information about the trustworthiness of those reviews.

In a project coordinated by the European Commission, 26 EU consumer authorities, including Malta, as well as Iceland and Norway, checked 223 major websites for misleading consumer reviews. In 144 of the websites checked, the authorities were not convinced that the merchants running the websites did enough to ensure that the reviews published on these sites were authentic. In other words, it was not possible to confirm that the reviews were actually posted by consumers who actually used the product or service they were reviewing.

This filtering exercise also revealed that 104 of the 223 websites examined do not inform consumers about how reviews are collected and processed. Additionally, only 84 of the websites made this information available to consumers on the review page itself. Other websites only provide information about how reviews are collected in very small print in their legal terms.

Another important finding was that 118 websites lacked information on how fake reviews are avoided. As a result, consumers are unable to verify that reviews were written by consumers who have used the products.

104 of the 223 websites surveyed do not inform consumers about how reviews are collected and processed.-Odette Velle

Finally, the filtering exercise revealed that 176 of the websites do not mention that incentivizing reviews are prohibited by their internal policies. Additionally, where incentivized reviews are not prohibited, the website does not flag reviews as incentivized.

From this exercise, consumer protection authorities have concluded that at least 55% of the websites checked are potentially in breach of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which requires truthful information to be presented to consumers to enable them to make a informed purchase choice.

Following these findings, national authorities will contact affected traders to rectify their website and, if necessary, initiate enforcement actions in accordance with their national procedures to ensure full compliance with EU law.

These projects are coordinated by the European Commission and carried out simultaneously by national enforcement authorities within the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network.

The projects work through a two-step process of action. The first step is to screen websites to identify consumer law violations in a given online marketplace; the second stage is enforcement, during which national authorities ask traders to take corrective action.

Such projects have been carried out annually since 2007 and over the past five years have been carried out in the following areas: telecommunications and other digital services (2017); price transparency and drip pricing (2018); delivery and right of withdrawal (2019); consumer scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic (2020); misleading sustainability claims (2020); consumer credit (2021); and online consumer reviews (2021).

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