EU investigation: nearly two-thirds of sites may have fake reviews

The European Commission says after researching, among others, web shops and online marketplaces that there are doubts about the reliability of reviews at almost two thirds of these sites. More than half of the websites may also violate an EU directive.

Market authorities from 26 EU countries, Iceland and Norway investigated 223 ‘major websites’ for misleading consumer reviews. This concerns web shops, marketplaces, booking websites, search engines and comparison sites. In 144 of these websites, authorities were unable to confirm that those responsible are doing enough to ensure that the reviews are authentic, i.e. posted by consumers who have actually used products.

In the investigation, authorities relied on the information consumers see to judge whether sites are doing enough to counteract these fake reviews. According to the authorities, more than a third gave enough information about this, almost two thirds did not. 118 websites would give no information at all about how to counter fake reviews.

In addition, at least 55 percent of the websites surveyed could potentially violate the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, requiring sites to provide truthful information to customers so that customers can make informed choices. The EC has doubts about this at eighteen percent of all sites.

The authorities also looked at how websites deal with ‘incentivized’ reviews, where consumers receive discounts or free products in exchange for a positive review. Of the 223 sites, 176 sites would not make it clear enough that these incentivized reviews go against their policy, or it would be unclear how consumers can see that these reviews have been incentivized.

The European Commission is also unhappy with how consumers are informed about how reviews are collected. 104 of the sites surveyed would not specify how these reviews are collected. Of all the sites surveyed, ‘only’ 84 sites on the reviews page would indicate how the reviews are collected. 35 sites would state this information in “the lowercase” as in the terms of use.

Participating authorities are now entering into discussions with the investigated websites about the findings of the investigation, and will take further steps where necessary. The investigation was an annual sweep, with market watchdogs investigating a specific website sector for possible violations.

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