By Lucy Marlow, Solicitor, Thomas Eggar LLP

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has recently published a report following its call for information in February 2015 on the use of online reviews and endorsements. The report was commissioned as it was recognised that whilst online reviews can help consumers make decisions and encourage businesses to improve the quality of their services and products, more and more concerns were being raised over certain misleading practices which breached consumer law. Misleading practices are damaging and may prevent consumers from choosing the products and/or services that may best suit their needs. Business can also be harmed by such practices. The key areas of concern include:

• fake reviews being posted onto review sites;
• negative reviews not being published; and
• businesses paying for endorsements in blogs and other online articles without this being made clear to consumers.

CMA has provided guidance to businesses as to how they can address these concerns and avoid beaching consumer laws, such as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) and the UK Advertising codes (e.g. the CAP Code for non-broadcast advertising). Businesses (and anyone acting on their behalf) which might wish to have their products or services reviewed by consumers, or may wish to promote their items online have been given the following advice:

• Do not create the false impression that content has been written by a consumer and write fake reviews about their business on review sites
• Do not mislead consumers about the identity of the reviewer
• Do not provide inducements to consumers in return for writing positive reviews about their business. All advertising and paid promotions should be clearly identifiable to readers and viewers
Review sites have also been advised to:
• Be clear about how reviews are obtained and checked
• Publish all reviews – even negative ones, provided they are genuine and lawful
• Disclose commercial relationships with businesses that appear on their site and explain how this might affect the businesses ratings and/or rankings
• Have procedures in place to identify and remove fake reviews, and act promptly in response to reports of suspected fake reviews
• Clearly identify all advertising and paid promotions, including when reviews have been paid for

This guidance should assist businesses and review sites when trying to stay on the right side of Advertising Law.