The Online Review Dilemma

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Are you one of the millions of Aussies who look at their smartphone the last thing they do before they go to bed and minutes before waking up. The smartphone and the internet have invaded virtually every aspect of our lives. We use the internet for everything from job hunting to dating and even to find our accommodation. Many of us rely on online reviews to determine whether we should purchase product or service.

Lots of people depend on reviews

According to the ACCC almost 75 per cent of all social media users say before making a purchase they read online reviews. So when the competition watchdog says it continues to receive many complaints about fake negative online reviews we should take note. Recently the Council of Small Business dealt with a case where a union sought to cause harm to a business using negative online reviews.

Targeting business

When someone has a grievance, they will just target a business and that has nothing to do with their products or services but more to do with personality or ideology. There is no way to tell whether a customer has patronised a business or not. These fake reviews can cause a lot of stress for business owners when it is not obvious who wrote the review.

Reviews are necessary

Small business owners need online reviews because without them customers will not even walk through the door. Fake bad reviews are almost impossible to have deleted no matter how much reputational damage is caused. Business owners can make a complaint to the ACCC about a specific review. If the complaint holds up following an investigation the watchdog under consumer law is able to issue infringement notices which can incur penalties of up to $1 million.

More powers needed

For now, that is all the ACCC is able to do but the Council of Small Business Organisations is working with the ACCC to give businesses more options. The regulator wants an ombudsman with the power to investigate complaints and take down content when appropriate as well as force compensation. The Australian Government is considering the recommendation and will provide a formal response before the end of the year.

Fake positive reviews

The analogue to fake bad reviews is fake good reviews which is also a large problem. Consumers get a raw deal from the latter. Some companies even direct their employees to right these fake good reviews. The ACCC warns that companies need to make clear whether a reviewer have been provided with incentives to write a positive review. Nevertheless, for Australian travellers fake positive reviews are a rather large problem.

Stay vigilant

As the internet continues to evolve, and both businesses and consumers grow increasingly dependent on it, how should the regulator police content so it stays credible? The regulator says it is wrestling with this problem right now and it trying to find the line where small businesses are not disadvantaged unfairly but consumers continue to get the same benefits available from the review process. For consumers this means there is no guarantee the review they read is real for businesses they need to stay vigilant.