Reading time: 5 minutes

Online reviews have a significant influence on consumers when they are making decisions about what to buy. If you’re asking your customers to provide you with an online review, you’re giving them an opportunity to share their experience with the world at large by placing it on a public platform. It might be positive or negative in substance, but you must always ensure that all online reviews about your business are genuine reviews from actual customers. Without carefully monitoring the authenticity of your online reviews, you could end up breaching the Australian Consumer Law (“ACL”) by giving potential consumers the wrong impression about your business. If you have placed fake reviews online to make your business look for reputable, you should take them down and contact your business lawyer immediately.

Authentic reviews

Online reviews are usually found on the business’ website or on review platforms. Review platforms provide reviews on various products and assist consumers in making the right product choices. As consumers, we all expect (and hope) that the reviews we read online are genuine and accurate. The consequences of uploading inaccurate reviews can be serious, and a business lawyer should be consulted whenever there is doubt about a review’s authenticity.

Made-up reviews

Review platforms, along with the businesses themselves, must immediately remove any fake reviews as soon as they become aware of them. Otherwise, they could be in breach of the Competitions and Consumer Act 2010. It does not matter if a review appears to be genuine but is written by any of the following:

  • The business being reviewed;
  • Any of its competitors;
  • An individual who has not used the product/service but is being asked/paid to write the review;
  • An individual who did use the product and embellished the experience to receive compensation.

Certain conduct is prohibited by the ACCC if it is capable of misleading consumers, including:

  • Getting your friends or family to generate reviews for your company site, but not communicating that there is a previous connection to the company;
  • Making a review that doesn’t reflect a real experience i.e. making up an opinion;
  • Trying to get other people to write fake reviews when they have not actually tried out the goods/services themselves.

Can you offer an inducement?

It is also risky to offer clients inducements to write reviews that reflect positively on the business. The only time when you are able to offer an inducement to write a review is when:

  • Both good and bad reviewers receive the reward;
  • It is communicated that both good and bad reviews are rewarded; and
  • Users are told about the inducement.

Be clear about any commercial relationships

If you have a tight-knit relationship with a review platform or you advertise on a review platform, they may give you preferential treatment in terms of which reviews they choose to show and which they don’t. This preferential relationship can lead consumers into believing that the businesses appearing higher up on the page were ranked higher overall in terms of ‘user experience’. You are required to disclosure these commercial relationship so that consumers do not become misled. If you’re unsure whether to disclose your commercial relationship, consult a business lawyer.

What about ratings?

Review platforms that use a star rating system to rank businesses should also indicate the number of reviews this star rating is based on. This is so that consumers can see how many people have actually used the service or experienced the goods. This will assist consumers in making a more informed choice when choosing which business to go with.

What can you change?

If a business or review platform decides to edit all of their unfavourable reviews to make the overall impression of a business seem more attractive to a potential consumer, it is likely that that consumer will be misled by this conduct. In other words, if the reviews that are available on the website/review platform only represent a fragment of the total reviews, it is possible for consumers to be misled by this narrow representation of the users’ overall impression.

Spotting an impostor

There are several methods for spotting a fake review. Fake reviews will usually have the following characteristics:

  • If there is a spike in the amount of reviews for one business in particular and these reviews are over a very short period of time;
  • The email/IP address may be the same;
  • The content of the review is over the top in that it uses mostly laudatory words e.g. great, excellent, fantastic, the best etc.; and
  • There are several reviews worded in very similar ways about the same goods/business.

Conclusion

Misleading consumers by writing, uploading or in some other way generating false online reviews, is likely to get you into trouble with the ACCC and may result in your business breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. For advice on how to avoid this, contact LegalVision on 1300 544 755 and speak with one of our team of experienced business lawyers.

Webinars

Construction Contract Essentials

Thursday 12 August | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
Understand how construction contracts are drafted and how to protect your construction business.
Register Now

Startup 101: Understanding Cap Tables and ESOPs

Thursday 19 August | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
Cap tables and employee share option plans are essential for fast-growing startups. Learn more with this free webinar.
Register Now

Expanding to NZ: Structuring Your Business For Success

Thursday 26 August | 2:00 - 2:45pm

Online
Launching a business in New Zealand? Understand how to structure your business for success with this free webinar.
Register Now

Preventing Modern Slavery: Your Business’ Legal Obligations

Thursday 9 September | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
Are you an Australian business with $100m+ annual consolidated revenue? Learn how to determine if you are a modern slavery reporting entity and your obligations under the legislation with this free webinar.
Register Now

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a tech-driven, full-service commercial law firm that uses technology to deliver a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience.

The majority of our clients are LVConnect members. By becoming a member, you can stay ahead of legal issues while staying on top of costs. From just $119 per week, get all your contracts sorted, trade marks registered and questions answered by experienced business lawyers.

Learn more about LVConnect

Need Legal Help? Get a Free Fixed-Fee Quote

If you would like to receive a free fixed-fee quote or get in touch with our team, fill out the form below.

  • 2020 Excellence in Technology & Innovation – Finalist – Australasian Law Awards 2020 Excellence in Technology & Innovation Finalist – Australasian Law Awards
  • 2020 Employer of Choice – Winner – Australasian Lawyer 2020 Employer of Choice Winner – Australasian Lawyer
  • 2021 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500 2021 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500
  • 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review
  • 2021 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards 2021 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards
  • Most Innovative Law Firm - 2019 Australasian Lawyer 2019 Most Innovative Firm - Australasian Lawyer