Internet Law- When is an online product review, not an online product review?

Q. When is an online product review, not an online product review? 

A. When it is paid for.

In today’s technological era, we look to the internet for answers to all sorts of issues.  One of the main items of research carried out relates to product and service reviews.  Personally, I read reviews on almost everything I am about to spend money on: from a hotel, to a restaurant or even the new kettle I am planning to buy.  But how genuine are these reviews?

Well, the biggest online retailer, Amazon has just sued four firms that pay people to produce reviews for them that then appear on the retailer’s site.

The company alleges that the paid opinions "undermine" its review system which customers believe come from unbiased sources and as part of the claim, Amazon is seeking damages from the four sites and wants them to stop producing the reviews.

The four companies named in the legal complaint have not yet responded to Amazon's allegations.

"While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon's brand," said the retailer in documents filed to the court in Washington.

As well as subverting the review process, Amazon accused the sites of trademark infringement, and violations of local consumer protection statutes and cybersquatting laws that govern who can own a domain name.

Since the legal action was filed two of the companies allegedly paying individuals for reviews named have gone offline.

Mark Collins, who runs one of the companies being sued by Amazon: ‘Buy Amazon Reviews,’ defended his business in an interview with The Seattle Times. He said the site did not provide "fake" reviews but provided "unbiased and honest" opinions about products.  I am sure none of these ‘reviews’ actually stated that they were merely opinions about products, from individuals who may never have even seen, let alone used the product in question.

The sites pay between $19-$22 (£13-£15) for each review which typically result in products getting a four or five star rating. Higher star ratings can often translate into higher sales.  So the next time you look in to whether you should be purchasing that particular product or service, you may just want to take a pinch of salt with what you read.  I certainly will!

Amazon is right to sue such companies, diluting online quality reviews and whilst Amazon is a giant retailer, these are not issues simply affecting them.  Reviews are often engineered to demote rankings of hotels and other service providers and this can often have catastrophic results for the businesses involved.  But with legislation in place to assist in locating the individuals behind such postings and blogs, there is no need to suffer. 

If you are the victim of untrue reviews and blogs about your business/service/products, speak to our renown internet law team and we will be able to get you back on track and the damaging reviews removed.

Rupinder Bains

Managing Director

Pinder Reaux & Associates.