Fake reviews of products will be banned in new Europe-wide laws to protect consumer rights. The Dutch junior minister for economic affairs Mona Keijzer said that there is an urgent need to increase controls on online behaviour so that people are not misled.
‘The rules for consumers in the physical world need to apply online,’ she said in a press release. ‘Information on social media, digital platforms and webshops is too often incomplete, unclear, or even simply misleading. This means that you as a consumer might buy something or sign a contract without being fully aware of the conditions, which could mean problems with defects or returns. This modernisation …is necessary to make our economy fairer.’
The laws, which should be applied across Europe by May 2022, particularly crack down on what happens on social media, where concerns have been raised about what is done with users’ personal information. Social media sites which require people to give up their personal information in order to gain ‘free’ access will need to be clearer about the contract they are entering into with consumers and how it can be ended.
Consumers will also have the right to leave without giving a reason within 14 days, and then the site must delete all of their personal details. The Dutch law will ban search engines from listing content which is in fact an advert or placing listings higher, on the basis of payment, without making this clear. Earlier this year, the British consumer rights organisation Which? demonstrated how easy it was to post scam adverts on Facebook and Google for a fake health advice service and Dutch consumer rights service the Consumentenbond has also been campaigning for more awareness around fake advertisements.
The new law will make it obligatory to make sure that reviews are checked for authenticity before they are published, while paid-for, ‘fake reviews’ will be prohibited by law and subject to fines. Fines Online traders will need to tell consumers if they have been targeted with a personalized offer based on, for example, algorithms that have recorded their visits to other sites.
Meanwhile, digital platforms need to make it clear whether they or a seller are responsible for delivery and returns in case of issues. Fines will be issued for breaking the law even if a provider is based in another European country, and fines can be as high as 4% of revenue.
Joyce Donat, a spokeswoman for the Consumentenbond, said they had frequent reports of consumers experiencing problems with online purchases. ‘We see lots of fake shops that are difficult to distinguish from real ones and we often warn people that it’s very difficult to see if a review is genuine or not. ‘Some are just fake but shops also ask people to place reviews if they are satisfied.
And while returns are well regulated, all of our research show that some businesses pay late or don’t refund the initial delivery costs. It’s very hard for consumers to find their way online and we are always happy with more protection.’