Guest post by Luca Teres Loytved

Influencer Law Clinic series

2/1/20212 min read

Nowadays, more and more people turn to online shops when wanting to purchase a new product, making e-commerce a significant part of the industries. Particularly in the past year, by reason of the unprecedented closure of non-essential stores and the urge of staying at home as much as possible, purchases made online rather than in-store have spiked.[1] However, committing to a product only by means of a picture on screen is very different to an actual physical transaction. This is why nowadays, virtually every product and service that can be bought online is subject to reviews by other consumers. The reviews on specific products, as well as a business in general, will often times be considered by potential customers before making a purchase. Naturally, positive reviews will make someone more likely to use a certain business and purchase a specific product.[2] Moreover, irrespective of whether the consumer ends up purchasing the product online or in-store, 63% of purchases will begin online, typically by researching about the product and taking other consumers’ opinions and reviews into account.[3] However, not all reviews are legitimate and should genuinely be relied on as research conducted by the Washington Post has shown that 61% of reviews about electronics on Amazon are fake.[4] Given these statistics, it comes to no surprise that false consumer reviews have a significant impact on online shopping and is thus recognized as one of the most market-distorting factors in that field. In the past, consumers were able to rely on different online services, such as ReviewMeta[5], in order to evaluate the legitimacy of reviews before purchasing a product. By inserting the URL of any given product on Amazon, ReviewMeta analyses the reviews posted thereunder and filters out reviews that might be unnatural. The output of the algorithm will result in an adjusted rating, deviating from the original rating on Amazon and thus providing the consumer with a more adequate quality assessment of the product. The impact of false reviews has now also been recognized by the European Legislator. In order to offer greater protection to European consumers, Directive 2019/2161 (the Omnibus Directive) has been issued. As such, better protection to consumers shall be ensured by providing more transparency concerning consumer reviews. The Omnibus Directive has already entered into force and the implementing legislation in Member States shall enter into force by May 2022. The Directive imposed a number of obligations on online traders. Among others, online sellers will be required to provide customers with the relevant information on the means that are employed to ensure that the product reviews were made by verified customers who actually purchased the product in question. Moreover, various activities, like the manipulation of reviews, have been blacklisted. Traders are prohibited from posting false reviews or deleting negative ones. Additionally, reviews cannot be transferred from one product to another one. So, if all goes well, we can hopefully rely on reviews posted under that hot-new-product-you-so-desperately-want-but-definitely-dont-need, with a little bit more easy in the future!