India on Monday launched a crackdown on fake consumer reviews and unverified ratings to make the online world and e-commerce more authentic and less misleading for users.
The government has drafted guidelines for companies from Google to Alphabet Inc, Facebook and Instagram to Meta Platform and Amazon.com Inc to travel sites and food delivery apps that rely on reviews to validate products and services.
Positive thoughts help generate sales and pique the interest of potential buyers
Some companies have been criticised by consumers and industry experts for downplaying negative reviews or accepting fake ratings, making the vetting process difficult for buyers.
The named companies did not immediately respond to a Reuters email seeking comment.
“Feedback mechanisms such as reviews are essential for consumer interest. We welcome the steps being taken by the government … and are obliged to be a part of the constituted committee,” said a spokesperson for Zomato.
The Department of Consumer Affairs set up a committee in June to develop a framework for checking false and misleading reviews in e-commerce, the Department of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution said.
“The new guidelines for online reviews are designed to increase transparency for consumers and brands and promote accuracy of the information,” said Sachin Taparia, founder of LocalCircles, a community platform and pollster that submitted the initial submission to the Department of Consumer Affairs and was a member of the guidelines writing committee
“As far as platforms like Google and Facebook go, the new rules will require them to validate the real person behind the review through specified 6-8 mechanisms, which means fake accounts created just for review writing will go away over time or won’t be able to review,” said Taparia.
Full details of the proposal are not yet public.
“We do not want to bulldoze this. We will first see voluntary compliance of these guidelines. And if we see the menace continues to grow we may make this mandatory,” Rohit Kumar Singh, secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs, told reporters in New Delhi.
The Bureau of Indian Standards will assess compliance, the ministry said.
Online companies say they have internal checks in place to combat fake reviews, but currently failure to do so is not a compliance breach.
If the guidelines become mandatory, companies could face action for unfair trade practice, for suppressing negative reviews or for enabling planting of fake reviews, Taparia said.