If you engage in selectively removing customer reviews that appear negative, you are essentially misleading consumers. The review section of your business reflects the feedback you receive from your customers and their overall perception. Manipulating reviews to create a false impression of your business is misleading conduct.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) provides a guide on reviews for businesses and review platforms. One of the key guiding principles addresses the omission of reviews. It suggests that removing or even editing your customer reviews can in some ways be misleading. For example, there are accusations that Airbnb are removing critical reviews in order to promote it’s hosts.
When is it Legal?
The ACCC allows for the removal of customer reviews, where the purpose is to avoid publishing fake or offensive content. Most consumer review platforms will have detection tools and a removal function available for this reason. Moderating reviews is important to ensure your business isn’t seen to be indirectly promoting false or harmful information. Therefore, there is definitely a place for removing reviews, however, it must be done for ethical purposes and not to enhance your business’ profit margin.
When is it Illegal?
Section 18 and 34 of the Australian Consumer Law are the legal provisions that apply to online reviews. They dictate that any conduct that is misleading or deceptive, or that is liable to mislead the public is illegal. Removing or manipulating reviews to falsely inflate consumer perception of your business is a breach of these laws. The ACCC took Aveling Homes to court in 2017 for holding back customer reviews in order to create a more favourable impression. $380,000 was the overall penalty with an employee also individually receiving a $25,000 fine. This case highlights how seriously the legal system is treating the online review space in today’s market.
Reviews are vital to the future of modern businesses and can have a huge impact on performance. The temptation to exploit them for short term success is punishable by the legal authority of consumer law. With the penalties reflecting the significant impact reviews have, engaging in this conduct can be extremely harmful to your business and you personally.
The advice of a business lawyer may be helpful in clearing up any concerns you may have with the review side of your business. Additionally, the ACCC’s guiding principles are a great starting point for business owners who may be unsure about how to use customer reviews. Following their recommendations will ensure you won’t find yourself in any legal strife.
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