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    Consumer Affairs Department Holds Consultation on Reducing Fake Reviews Online

    The Department of Consumer Affairs held a stakeholder convention on May 15, on the protection of consumers’ interest from online fake reviews. It was chaired by the Department Secretary and attended by representatives from major online platforms like Google, Amazon, Meta and Flipkart, alongside various industry bodies and voluntary consumer associations. According to a press release by the Press Information Bureau, the discussion centred around a draft Quality Control Order (QCO) for online reviews which will be placed for public consultation. According to the PIB, the prohibitions under the proposed QCO include –

    • The organisation shall not publish consumer reviews online collected with a biased objective and prejudice.
    • The organisation shall not edit reviews to alter their message.
    • The organisation shall not prevent or discourage people from submitting negative reviews.

    The release also highlighted the massive increase in number of consumer grievances relating to e-commerce registered on the National Consumer Helpline, which has gone up from 95,270 in 2018 (22% of total grievances), to 4,44,034 in 2023 (43% of total grievances).

    In November 2022, the government released the Indian Standard (IS) 19000:2022 “Online Consumer Reviews — Principles and Requirements for their Collection, Moderation and Publication,” a regulatory framework meant to curb fake and misleading online reviews. Under the standard, any platform that publishes consumer reviews would need to develop a “written set of terms and conditions that state the rules and criteria to be complied with for anyone wishing to submit a review.” The terms and conditions must require the review to be a personal consumer experience and be factually correct to the best of the author’s knowledge.

    Additionally, the T&Cs must prohibit defamatory language and marketing material. Platforms would also need to establish communication with sellers of the products and services reviewed on their site and share relevant feedback with these sellers from reviews, such as any safety issues. Platforms are also required to “continually update and improve the service” they offer by monitoring and responding to consumer and seller feedback. Notably, the online review authors are required to provide personal contact information while review administrators must safeguard said information. While the framework was initially voluntary, Department of Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh indicated that it could become mandatory for all e-commerce platforms in the future.

    Previous concerns about fake reviews

    Concerns about fake online reviews have been raised multiple times in the past. In March this year, an Amicus Curiae appointed by the Kerala High Court highlighted that social media influencers often indulged in posting paid negative reviews, sometimes even through fake profiles, on platforms like BookMyShow, IMDb, and Rotten Tomatoes. This was in response to a petition filed by a film director alleging that “there is now an organized racket, particularly in the ‘online spectrum’, of deliberately denigrating and tarnishing a movie with the intention of unjust enrichment, coupled with blackmail and extortion.”

    Similarly, in July last year, tech giant Google filed a lawsuit against a bad actor who created hundreds of fraudulent business profiles, generating thousands of fake reviews for these profiles and directing the resulting customers to other businesses for a fee.

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    The post Consumer Affairs Department Holds Consultation on Reducing Fake Reviews Online appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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