Following a period of extensive industry and community
consultation, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission
(ACCC) yesterday released its guidelines for
managing and using online reviews, Online reviews: a guide for
business and review platforms (Guide).
The development and publication of the Guide recognises the
important role of product reviews to both consumers and businesses,
and increasing concerns of the ACCC of the capacity for such review
platforms to be abused by people or businesses posting fake reviews
(negative or positive reviews), editing reviews, or providing
incentives to solicit particular types of reviews.
When announcing the release of the Guide on Tuesday, 3 December
2013, ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper observed that,
"Online reviews are an increasingly popular resource for
consumers purchasing goods or services. Many businesses rely on
these reviews to promote their businesses, however, some
unscrupulous businesses are taking advantage of consumer trust in
HOW THE GUIDE APPLIES TO YOU
The Guide represents an all-encompassing approach by the ACCC
and applies to all people and businesses involved in publishing
online reviews, including:
those who write reviews;
businesses that solicit reviews of their goods or services;
websites that publish product reviews (whether of their own
goods and services, or those of a third party).
The ACCC has also adopted a broad definition of what it
considers to be a "review platform", which includes
blogs, "or other sites which publish reviews as discussion
threads or in another format...". This means that social
media pages of businesses that allow for the collection or display
of reviews, such as a Facebook page, would be within the scope of
the Guide and the principles of the Guide would apply equally to
The guiding principles set out in the Guide are:
Principle 1 - Be transparent about commercial
Principle 2 - Don't post or publish
Principle 3 - Remember that omitting negative
reviews can be as misleading as posting fake reviews.
In seeking to address conduct that may influence the nature of
reviews, and to ensure the integrity of online review platforms,
the Guide warns that people and businesses risk breaching the
Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)
(CCA) if they:
fail to adequately disclose to consumers that a commercial
relationship has impacted upon the content or presentation of
fail to take appropriate steps to detect and remove fake
do not disclose that an incentive has been offered for
write or publish a review of their own business, as if they
were a consumer;
engage any person (whether individual, a search engine
optimisation firm or other public relations firm) to deliver
reviews by persons who are purporting to be, but who are not in
fact, genuine consumers.
The principles set out in the Guide are in addition to the
existing provisions of the Australian Consumer Law (in schedule 2
to the CCA) that would relate to online user reviews,
section 29(1)(e) of the Australian Consumer Law which states
that a person must not, "make a false or misleading
representation that purports to be a testimonial by any person
relating to goods or services"; and
section 18(1) of the Australian Consumer Law which prohibits
engaging in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to
mislead or deceive.
WHAT SHOULD BUSINESSES DO NOW?
In light of the ACCC's focus on online review and the
release of the Guide, any business that collects or publishes user
reviews online should now analyse its procedures for obtaining and
publishing user reviews, including by:
examining any campaigns or programs it has in place for
incentivising user reviews;
taking steps to notify consumers where a commercial
relationship has impacted upon the content or presentation of any
developing and implementing mechanisms and procedures for
detecting and removing fake reviews;
ensuring it does not write or publish a review of their own
business, purporting to be a consumer; and
considering whether it engages (or has ever engaged) any person
to deliver reviews purporting to be, but who are not in fact,
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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