Stakeholder consultation on protection of consumers from online fake reviews

Stakeholder consultation on protection of consumers from online fake reviews

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Ministry of Consumer Affairs
Ministry of Consumer Affairs

The Department of Consumer Affairs held a stakeholder consultation here on protection of consumer interest from online fake reviews. Mrs. Nidhi Khare, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs chaired the meeting.

The number of consumer grievances relating to e-commerce registered on the NCH have increased significantly. From 95,270 in 2018 (22% of total grievances), the number of grievances have risen to 4,44,034 in 2023 (43% of total grievances).

Since e-commerce provides a virtual shopping experience where consumers cannot physically inspect the products, they depend significantly on reviews available on e-commerce platforms to gather insights and experiences from users who have already purchased the goods or services. Online reviews provide social proof to potential customers and give them confidence in purchasing a product or availing a service.

The presence of fake reviews online jeopardizes the trustworthiness and credibility of shopping platforms and can cause consumers to take wrong purchase decisions.

In November, 2022, the Department had launched the Indian Standard (IS) 19000:2022 ‘Online Consumer Reviews — Principles and Requirements for their Collection, Moderation and Publication. The guiding principles of the standard are integrity, accuracy, privacy, security, transparency, accessibility and responsiveness.

The standard prescribes specific responsibilities for the review author and the review administrator. As per the standard, organizations are required to identify of the review author by specific prescribed modes, and develop a written code of practice, communicated and made available to all management and staff, which outlines how this document and the guiding principles will be met and maintained.

The essential requirements provided under the draft Quality Control Order (QCO) include that the processes for collecting, moderating and publishing online consumer reviews shall be done in a manner ensuring that the reviews that are genuine get published.

The prohibitions under the proposed QCO include –

    1. The organisation shall not publish consumer reviews online collected with a bias objective and prejudice.
    2. The organisation shall not edit reviews to alter their message.
    3. The organisation shall not prevent or discourage people from submitting negative reviews.

Organizations are required to implement an appropriate mechanism for collection, moderation and publication of online consumer reviews in compliance with the principles and requirements specified in Indian Standard IS 19000:2022.

The discussion on moving towards a Quality Control Order for IS 19000:2022 was welcomed by stakeholders and there was a general consensus among all stakeholders that the issue of fake reviews is important to protect consumer interest while shopping online, and requires to be closely monitored. The Draft Quality Control Order will be placed for public consultation for submitting comments within a prescribed time frame.

Representatives from major online platforms (such as Google, Meta, Amazon, Flipkart etc.), industry bodies, voluntary consumer associations including MGP and noted consumer activist Pushpa Girimji and law chairs and law firms were present during the meeting. A presentation by the Department of Consumer Affairs, emphasizing on growth in online shopping over the recent times and the rising number of consumer grievances registered in the e-commerce sector on the National Consumer Helpline (NCH) was also made during the meeting.

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