Various organizations that trade in fake reviews, fake likes, and fake followers are active on the Internet. Such misleading endorsements are used to influence consumers on social media and other online services, such as online stores and online marketplaces. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) believes it is important that consumers are given correct information, which they can use when making purchasing decisions. That is why ACM takes action against market participants that offer and use misleading endorsements online.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “The deliberate use of fake reviews, fake likes, and fake followers hurts confidence among consumers in the Internet as a marketplace. Consumers must be able to trust the information they find online, and on which they base their purchasing decisions. Furthermore, the use of misleading endorsements can lead to unfair competition among businesses. That is why we take action against these practices.”
What is the problem?
ACM has established that several Dutch businesses offer online fake reviews, fake likes or fake followers (whether or not paid) to be used on online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Google. These endorsements are fake, because they do not reflect the personal experiences of real consumers. Businesses, influencers, and other market participants use these endorsements for manipulating the image of their company, product or service. As a result thereof, consumers are misled about the quality or popularity of a business, product or service. In addition, businesses use negative fake reviews for making their competitors look bad. At a global scale, the financial harm to online advertisers caused by this fake influencer marketing is estimated at over 1.2 billion euros. Add to that the harm inflicted on consumer confidence.
In the Guidelines on the protection of the online consumer, which ACM published earlier this year, ACM explained at what point persuasion turns into deception. In these guidelines, ACM also explained why these practices mislead consumers, and why they are not allowed.
What actions will ACM take?
ACM tracks down businesses that offer fake reviews, fake followers, and fake likes, and will subsequently order them to stop their practices. In that context, ACM will also demand their customer files. On the basis of those files, ACM will reprimand businesses, influencers, and other market participants that use these misleading endorsements. If market participants that offer or use misleading endorsements refuse to suspend their illegal practices, ACM may use other instruments such as the imposition of fines.
ACM had previously carried out a study into online reviews, and had set several criteria that online reviews need to meet. ACM also looks at the online platforms’ role and responsibility in the fight against misleading endorsements.
What can consumers do?
Through its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer, ACM offers consumers tips on how to distinguish real information from fake information themselves (in Dutch). ACM also welcomes indications from consumers (in Dutch) about their experiences with online misleading practices that use fake likes and fake reviews. This information is valuable input for ACM’s oversight, and will be used in its investigation.