FTC proposes to outlaw fake online reviews

Photo (c) Unya MT - Getty Images

One estimate suggests as many as 31% of reviews aren’t real

If a proposed rule by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) becomes final it will be against the law to post a fake review online.

The FTC is trying to stop marketers from using phony review and endorsement practices such as using fake reviews, suppressing honest negative reviews, and paying for positive reviews, which deceive consumers looking for real feedback on a product or service and undercut honest businesses.

“Our proposed rule on fake reviews shows that we’re using all available means to attack deceptive advertising in the digital age,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  “The rule would trigger civil penalties for violators and should help level the playing field for honest companies.”

The FTC initiated the rule-making activity after reports that a growing number of online reviews are made up. CNBC cites a 2021 analysis that suggests as many as 31% of reviews found on e-commerce sites like Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy are suspected fakes.

The FTC’s proposed rule would prohibit:

  • Selling or obtaining fake consumer reviews and testimonials: Both buyer and seller could be held liable. 

  • Review hijacking: Businesses couldn’t use a review for one product to promote something different.  

  • Buying positive or negative reviews: Businesses couldn’t post negative reviews of a competitor.

  • Insider reviews and consumer testimonials: The proposed rule would prohibit a company’s officers and managers from writing reviews or testimonials of its products or services, without clearly disclosing their relationships.

Companies would also be barred from creating a website that claims to provide independent opinions about its products or services. They would also be prevented from unjustified legal threats to suppress unfavorable reviews.

ConsumerAffairs provides a place for consumers to post reviews of products and services and hundreds of thousands have done so since 1998. The company has strict protocols in place to insure review legitimacy.

“Our Moderation Team carefully evaluates reviews and images to ensure they meet our guidelines before publication,” the company said in a statement. “Only the most helpful and informative reviews and comments, regardless of their tone, are considered, provided they are factually accurate and include firsthand details and photos. ConsumerAffairs also uses intelligent software to help filter fake or spam reviews, ensuring a trustworthy platform for our users.”

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