The Competition and Markets Authority has launched an investigation into fake and misleading online reviews.
The announcement from the watchdog does not specify the agency industry - or any other single sector - but does say the probe will consider “whether businesses are manipulating the presentation of reviews about their products and services.”
There have been various disputes over reviews of agencies in recent years, particularly some online agencies; review platforms such as Trustpilot have in the past amended their activities in the light of controversies about agencies, and have felt obliged to explain their policies in relation to customer comments on agency performance.
The CMA’s probe, announced this morning, will consider “where, for example, a single user has reviewed an unlikely range of products or services” and how sites handle reviews “about products or services that the reviewer has received a payment or other incentive to review.”
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, says: “Most of us read online reviews to help decide which products or services to buy ... it’s really important that the online reviews we read are genuine opinions. If someone is persuaded to buy something after reading a fake or misleading review, they could end up wasting their money on a product or service that wasn’t what they wanted.
“Our investigation will examine whether several major websites are doing enough to crack down on fake reviews. And we will not hesitate to take further action if we find evidence that they aren’t doing what’s required under the law.”
The CMA is stressing that it is not currently alleging that any website has acted illegally.
“Through this work, the CMA wants to ensure that the sites have robust systems in place to find and remove fake reviews or reviews that mislead people about a product or business” the authority says, adding: “If it finds that any of these websites are not doing what is legally required, the CMA will take enforcement action to secure the necessary changes, pursuing action through the courts if needed. If appropriate, the CMA will identify the companies involved at this point.”