Who: Total SEO & Marketing Ltd (“Total”); Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”)
When: 4 March 2016
Law stated as at: 10 April 2016
The CMA has investigated and taken enforcement action against Total for writing and posting fake reviews in the provision of services to its clients.
CMA discovers 800 fake reviews
Total is a business which engages in search engine optimisation services. The CMA’s investigation concluded that, between 2014 and 2015, it had written in excess of 800 fake positive reviews for 86 of its small business clients on a range of different websites which provide customer review functionality.
The CMA was in contact with Total throughout its investigation, and Total has undertaken to stop the practice of writing fake reviews for its clients and to take steps to remove those fake reviews already posted.
The CMA also wrote to Total’s clients (which include car dealers, mechanics and gardeners) to warn them that third parties writing fake reviews on their behalf could potentially lead to them breaking the law themselves.
As part of the CMA’s announcement, Nisha Arora, a CMA Senior Director said:
“With more than half of people in the UK using online reviews to help them choose what to buy, they are becoming an increasingly valuable source of information. Fake reviews can lead to people making the wrong decisions and fair-playing businesses losing out..….posting fake reviews about clients is unacceptable.”
Why this matters:
Online reviews are obviously a focus point for the CMA. This announcement about Total follows a separate recent announcement about websites for finding tradespeople and care home review sites which have pledged to improve their processes for validating and displaying online reviews after the CMA raised concerns. Furthermore, in the next few weeks, the CMA expects to announce the outcome of its investigation into unlabelled endorsements.
Marketers should therefore take care with customer reviews. They should ensure that fake reviews are not posting in order to increase the attractiveness of their goods or services, whether by themselves or by agencies which they retain. Furthermore, any use of customer reviews by a brand in the course of its advertising must comply with the CAP Code, notably sections 3.45 – 3.52 on endorsements and testimonials.