Consumer advocates have welcomed legal action launched yesterday by the national consumer watchdog over website reviews, saying it is a timely warning to retailers, service providers and consumers.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched legal action against Meriton Serviced Apartments on Thursday, alleging Meriton tried to prevent some guests from posting negative reviews on TripAdvisor, from November 2014 to October 2015.
But Meriton denied the claims, saying it did not agree that the public has ever been deceived or misled, and that the proceedings would be defended.
Consumer group Choice and the Consumer Action Law Centre say regardless of the outcome, it is a good time for shoppers to be reminded about the pitfalls of false reviews — especially with the peak Christmas shopping season now underway.
“These allegations are really shocking but I wouldn’t call them a surprise,” Jonathon Brown from the Consumer Action Law Centre said.
“People go online looking for information and, really, they just come across marketing that’s dressed up as authentic reviews and that trips people up all the time.
“Sadly, it is a pretty common practice for companies to tinker with their own reviews and make them look better than they actually are.”
Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said it was an offence to make false claims and misleading representations through testimonials or reviews under Australian consumer law.
“Hopefully with more actions from bodies like the ACCC, we won’t see this come up as a systemic issue in larger companies and we will be able to keep trusting the bigger review sites,” Mr Godfrey said.
“This sends a really clear warning to other businesses out there, who may have been looking at this as a strategy, just not to do it because if you do, the ACCC is watching.”
Can you trust online reviews?
Last year Choice looked into the trustworthiness of online reviews and found the problem of fake reviews and review sites was on the rise.