The Competition Bureau is sending a warning to businesses about reviews posted by their employees.
"When posting online reviews about their company or its competitors, employees must disclose all connections they have with the business, product or service they promote, even if they’re providing their honest opinion," the bureau stated in a news release earlier last week. "If it’s impossible to make their business connection visible within their review, they should avoid posting it. For example, employees should not assign star ratings to products or services if the disclosure of the employment relationship is either impossible or separated from the overall rating."
According to the bureau, these connections can potentially affect how consumers evaluate the reviewer's independence. This applies to all types of reviews, including testimonials on social media.
Kata Rados, Assistant Deputy Commissioner for the Competition Bureau of Quebec and Atlantic region underlined that deceptive inauthentic reviews are a global issue and the warning is meant as an education tool for businesses and consumers.
"This business warning applies to businesses Canada-wide and this includes multinational companies that do business in Canada; whether or not they have a Canadian address or physical presence in Canada," Rados added.
However, Rados said that while the warning does encompass employees of businesses posting reviews who are not disclosing a business connection, it does not mean that businesses can't post testimonials or reviews altogether - it's a matter of transparency.
"To stay on the right side of the law, the Bureau recommends that businesses train their employees to properly disclose their business connection when posting reviews; they can post reviews, but we would like to properly disclose the business connection when posting those reviews. This training should occur regularly. We recommend that businesses put in place a compliance program with monitoring to prevent misleading reviews by employees."
Anyone who writes or permits writing reviews that give a false or misleading impression to consumers could be liable under the Competition Act. However, when asked how the Competition Bureau will monitor inauthentic reviews, Rados admitted it can be a challenge.
"The Bureau strives to monitor these advances and stay informed about developments that could impact the quality of the information that consumers have. I would like to stress that if anyone has any information that they would like to share with the Bureau in this regard they contact the Bureau via our website, the information provided by complainants is always very valuable for us when we are trying to do enforcement work in this area."
Rados added that consumers also have a role to play in discerning whether or not a review is a real consumer's honest take or whether it may be an employee review. She encouraged consumers to watch out for some tell-tale signs of reviews being misleading.
- Sudden spike or dip: Watch out for a sudden spike in very positive reviews or a sudden dip in very bad reviews. Are the reviews spread over a considerable amount of time or are they compressed in a very short period?
- New reviewer: Be on the lookout for reviewers who have only recently created a user profile or have been providing positive feedback on select products or services over a short period. These reviewers may work for the company and they may be getting reimbursed for posting fake reviews.
- Beware when a reviewer says, “It’s the best ever!!!”: Don’t always trust reviews with an overly positive or gushing tone, especially if the review does not offer specific details about why it’s so good. If a review claims a service or product is “the best,” the review may be fake.
- And beware when a reviewer says, “It’s the worst ever!!!”: You also shouldn’t always trust very negative reviews. These could be fake reviews from a competitor, discouraging shoppers from buying one product or service and suggesting another.
- 5 Stars!: When a company has only 5-star reviews, that’s a red flag. Every company, no matter how good, is likely to have a few negative reviews.
- Does this sound familiar? Watch out for multiple different reviewers using the same language to describe how good or bad something is. Some companies provide scripts to reviewers with suggested phrases and keywords. Be cautious if you see the same buzzwords coming up over and over again in reviews.
- Shop around: Just like you shopped for the right product or service, you should also consult several sources for independent, unbiased reviews.
- Go back in time: Be sure to look at reviews over a long period. This will help you to spot potential patterns like a spike in positive or negative reviews.
- The meat is in the middle: Read the 2-, 3- and 4-star reviews too. Someone writing a fake review is more likely to assign a rating of 1 or 5 stars, meaning you’re more likely to find a balanced critique in the middle range.
- Diversify: Online reviews are just one way to assess a product or service. Branch out -- ask trusted friends and family about their experiences. Consider asking the company for references.
Anyone who believes to have come across a fake online review, or who is aware of an organized effort by a company to boost their ratings or lower their competitor’s, should report it to the Competition Bureau.
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