The impact of online reviews and endorsements is increasing with
the growth of the sharing economy, ICPEN notes. Buyers connect with
sellers on platforms, and rely on user reviews because they lack
familiarity with the sellers. Sellers, in turn, are relying more on
user reviews instead of traditional advertising. This, ICPEN says,
"amplifies the importance of ensuring that reviews on sharing
economy platforms are genuine, commercial relationships are
disclosed, and ratings systems and evaluation scales are used
Review administrators are organisations that processes consumer
reviews. ICPEN identifies three kinds of review administrators:
Suppliers that obtain reviews about
their own products
Third parties that obtain reviews on
behalf of suppliers
Independent review platforms
ICPEN outlines three key principles for review administrators.
They should be:
be equal and fair in the collection
be alert and proactive in the
moderation of reviews
Businesses can promote themselves through advertorials in online
media, sponsoring bloggers, and brand ambassadors on social media,
ICPEN notes. They can also respond to negative reviews on social
media and review platforms. But, ICPEN notes, they must not act
unfairly themselves, for example, by hiding advertising or blocking
publication of genuine and lawful reviews.
"Traders" are businesses that promote their goods,
services, or brands on review platforms, blogs, tweets, or other
"Marketing professionals" are those who promote the
goods, services, or brands of their clients on review platforms,
blogs, tweets, or other social media.
Traders and marketing professionals should be guided by
following key principles, ICPEN says:
do not prevent consumers from seeing
the whole picture of genuine, relevant and lawful reviews;
do not write, commission or publish
disclose paid-for content clearly and
disclose other commercial
relationships where they may be relevant to the content.
One practice that has come under scrutiny by agencies is
"astroturfing", that is, the practice of
procuring positive reviews of a product from employees or other
non-arm's length reviewers. In October 2015, the Bureau
obtained a $1.25 million administrative monetary penalty from Bell
Canada after Bell has encouraged its employees to post positive
reviews of a free app designed to help customers manage their
wireless accounts. (See Bell Called Out For Employee App Reviews.)
The Guidelines for Digital Influencers seem to be targeted at
concerns about so-called "native advertising". Native
advertising is advertising that looks like the content into which
it is embedded, such as paid search results, or paid editorial
content on a news site. Native advertising is a legitimate business
practice, but it should be clear that the content has been paid
for, ICPEN says.
ICPEN defines "digital influencers" very broadly, to
anyone who posts online content, whether on their own website, a
review platform, or social media. In other words, ICPEN includes
all consumers who are online in the definition of "digital
influencer"; it is not limited to people involved in native
Digital influencers should be guided by the following key
principles, according to ICPEN:
disclose, clearly and prominently,
whether content has been paid for
be open about other commercial
relationships that might be relevant to the contents; and
give genuine reviews on markets,
businesses, goods or services.
The ICPEN guidelines in Canada
The ICPEN guidelines are not law in Canada; nor were they
designed to provide guidance on complying with the deceptive
marketing practices provisions of theCompetition Act.
That being said, the ICPEN guidelines contain sensible advice
that, in many cases, goes beyond the requirements of the
Competition Act. Canadian businesses will be well advised
to following these guidelines in order to ensure that their use of
online reviews and endorsements does not attract unwelcome scrutiny
from the Bureau.
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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