'The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is cracking down on fake online reviews, setting up best practice guidelines in consultation with industry and consumer groups.
Fake reviews posted by competitors or disgruntled diners on websites including Urbanspoon and Eatability have long been a sore point for chefs and restaurant owners, and in June this year Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO, John Hart, said the systems that these sites say they have in place to prevent false and vexacious reviews are ineffective.
"We have discussions with them [ACCC] about their algorithms and all the rest but it clearly doesn't work.
"It's very frustrating for a business, particularly if they know a review is vexatious ... The ones we hear about most often are the ones from a disgruntled ex-staff member and those sorts of things," Hart said.
"People will try to get back at a business by posting a nasty review and those sorts of things happen reasonably regularly, but the sites won't take them down because they say they don't own the data, they just publish what other people give them."
The ACCC says the use of fake reviews as a marketing tool is a priority as they not only hurt the businesses being 'reviewed' but also competitors who do the right thing by not manipulating the review system.
An ACCC spokesperson told Hospitality, "The ACCC is engaging with key stakeholders in the online space, and where appropriate, using its powers to investigate and take action against businesses engaging in this conduct.
"Australian consumers are increasingly relying on online consumer reviews to inform their purchasing decisions. A great deal of trust is often placed on these reviews, particularly when they are on websites that purport to be independent from product manufacturers or retailers.
"If [a] business uploads reviews about itself or about its competitors and presents those reviews as having been written by impartial consumers, the business is engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law," the spokesperson said.
The guidelines which the ACCC is developing with industry and consumer groups will be directed towards review platforms, reviewed businesses and marketing and public relations companies which seek to use reviews for promotional purposes.
The ACCC says its focus is one reviews which:
Are used to enhance the reputation of a business particularly in those situations where a website ranks businesses based on customer rankings;
Are used by businesses to gain a competitive advantage by placing negative reviews about their competitors online.
The ACCC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe that a person has contravened certain consumer protection laws. For serious misconduct, the ACCC can seek court penalties. The maximum penalty is $220,000 for an individual and $1.1 million for a body corporate, per breach.'
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