Review sites commit to address UK regulator's concerns

CMA also plans to publicise probe into paid endorsements

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The operators of five online review websites have committed to take action to resolve concerns raised by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that consumers were not getting a "complete picture when making buying decisions", the regulator has said.

Between them the companies have agreed (3-page/240KB PDF) to take measures which the CMA said should address the problem of negative reviews being suppressed, fake reviews being posted and the risk of "important information" not being brought to consumers' attention, such as details of "how reviews are collected, checked and published" and underlying commercial relationships, the CMA said.

Changes will be implemented on the Checkatrade, Trustatrader, Carehome.co.uk, Care Opinion and Most Recommended Care websites, the CMA said.

The CMA said it expects to make further announcements in the coming weeks in relation to separate investigations into online reviews and endorsements. The regulator last year held a call for information in an effort to deepen its understanding of the way businesses use online reviews and endorsements. It subsequently opened investigations into whether a number of businesses had broken consumer protection laws by failing to disclose that they have paid others to endorse their company online.

Nisha Arora, CMA senior director in the regulator's consumer unit, said: "Millions of people look at online reviews and endorsements before making buying decisions, and so it is crucial that review websites check and present reviews in a way that ensures consumers can trust them."

"Review sites play a critical role in giving consumers this valuable information and ensuring that consumers can trust the reviews they see. We welcome the constructive engagement we have had with the five review sites which will mean that people using them will have a more complete picture when reading reviews. These changes should help people to make the right choices when hiring a tradesperson or making a vital decision on the care of a loved one."

In revealing the results of its call for information in June 2015, the CMA said that businesses promoting products or services online, or which allow consumers to review them, should "not pretend to be a consumer and write fake reviews about their own or other businesses’ goods and services". They should also "ensure that advertising and paid promotions are clearly identifiable to readers/viewers as paid-for content (whether the payment is financial or otherwise)", the CMA said.

It also said review sites should not suppress negative reviews they collect and display unless they make it "clear to readers that they are presenting a selection of reviews only".

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