I share the concerns raised about fake reviews, such as when a supposed customer writes a review or provides a rating of a business, such as a pub or restaurant, when they have not visited or experienced the goods or service personally. Having met with hundreds of business owners and hosted multiple business breakfasts, I know how these fake reviews can cause serious harm to businesses, livelihoods and affect the mental health of individuals.
In July 2021, the Government consulted on a number of proposals concerning consumer protection law. The Government’s response set out its approach to ensuring consumers and business owners alike are supported with a robust set of rights. In particular, the Government confirmed it will consult in due course on adding fake reviews (both false positive reviews to boost sales and false reviews of businesses to deter custom) to the list of banned practices – giving greater clarity to business on the current law and, where fake reviews are posted, allowing enforcers to take effective action quickly.
However, it is important to stress that individuals and companies who post fake reviews are already breaking consumer law. In the past, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has taken enforcement action against a UK marketing company that wrote fake online reviews for small businesses. The CMA has also supported a plethora of small businesses to overcome the blight of slanderously false and damaging reviews. You may be pleased to know the CMA has also taken enforcement action against several review sites to improve their systems and practices.
You can be assured the CMA continues to monitor the sector closely and will consider further enforcement work if necessary.
I am aware of an amendment to the Online Safety Bill which seeks to widen the Bill's false communications offence to include financial harm and harm to a person or organisation, including a business, due to false communication. However, I do not support this amendment, which has been tabled in the House of Lords, as the Online Safety Bill will specifically add greater protections for individuals online, not businesses.
Therefore, I welcome the work the Government is undertaking to strengthen protections in this area. For instance, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill will ensure businesses and consumers are protected from rip-offs and false harmful reviews so they can reap the full benefits of the digital economy with confidence. As such, you will be reassured to know I remain in regular contact with the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, The Rt Hon. Michelle Donelan MP, regarding provisions to protect against financial and reputational harm. Updates on this will follow in due course.
Fake reviews that cheat customers, subscription traps that cost more than a billion pounds a year and new powers for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to tackle businesses that breach consumer rights law are all elements of this far-reaching Bill. In competitive markets, firms strive to give consumers the best products, most choice, and lowest possible prices. The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill will provide the CMA with stronger tools to investigate competition problems and take faster, more effective action, including where companies are the victims of damaging false reviews.
I hope that this will give greater clarity to business and, where fake reviews are posted, allow enforcers to take effective action quickly.
You can read more about the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-bill-to-stamp-out-unfair-practices-and-promote-competition-in-digital-markets
The CMA welcomes draft legislation enhancing its ability to promote competition and protect consumers, including new powers for its Digital Markets Unit.