Consumers dubious about rave reviews online have every right to be sceptical, a new European Commission analysis has found - with nearly two-thirds of scrutinised websites revealing doubts about their veracity.
Together with a number of national consumer authorities, the Commission analysed 223 major websites for misleading consumer reviews. Consumer reviews are a proven way of reaching new and existing customers, research has shown in recent years.
Almost two-thirds of the online shops, marketplaces, booking websites, search engines and comparison service sites analysed triggered doubts about the reliability of the reviews, according to the Commission. "In 144 out of the 223 websites checked, authorities could not confirm that these traders were doing enough to ensure that reviews are authentic, ie that they were posted by consumers that actually used the product or service that they reviewed," the Commission statement said.
Other findings included 118 websites that did not contain information about how fake reviews are prevented.
"In these cases, consumers have no possibility to verify whether reviews were written by consumers that actually used the product or service," the Commission said.
It said that consumer protection authorities concluded at least 55% of the checked websites potentially violate the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which requires that truthful information is presented to consumers to allow an informed choice.
Authorities also had doubts for another 18%, the Commission said.
The national consumer bodies will now take up the mantle and ask the websites involved to explain themselves. If the websites do not tackle the issue in a manner satisfactory to the consumer bodies, enforcement action could follow, the Commission said.