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I obtained a product from an online vendor. At the time it had a 5-star rating, with three reviews praising what was an entirely different product.

The product wasn't very good, and I wrote a review with a 1-star rating, and asked a general question of the 'world at large' (other purchasers).

I was notified when my question was answered and returned to the site. The original off-topic reviews had gone, and there were several more bad reviews. But a few minutes later I refreshed the page, and the reviews and ratings have been taken down.

Is it legal for the site hosting agent to manipulate the truth in this way? Are they misrepresenting the product by doing so?

3 Answers 3

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According to "Are Fake Online Reviews Illegal or Not?"

Posting o paying for "fake" reviews is illegal.

the practice of writing fake reviews (also called 'astroturfing') is illegal in the United Kingdom. The law falls under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This particular directive prohibits the undertaking of unfair commercial ‎practices in Britain.

The site defines a "fake" review as one where the person writing or posting the review has not in fact used the product or service being reviewed, has a close connection to the business which is not disclosed, receives a financial or other benefit for the review, or the review does not in fact represent the author's real opinion of the product or service for whatever reason.

The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) publishes a "guidance" "Online reviews: letting your customers see the true picture". This guidance instructs traders not to create or use fake reviews, and specifically states:

  • Don’t pretend to be a customer and write reviews about your products or other businesses’ products
  • Don’t commission third parties to write fake reviews – you may be liable for their actions
  • If you are working with a third party – such as a PR, marketing or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) agency – make sure they also follow these rules
  • Don’t offer inducements – money or gifts – to customers to write positive reviews about your business

It does not however, say anything about deleting or hiding negative reviews.

Changes in these rules were discussed in the April 2022 Reuters news story "UK rolls out new rules to battle fake reviews, anti-competitive practices" which mentioned increased authority of the CMA to levy fines for such actions s writing and posting fake reviews.

The 24 April 2022 BBC News story "'My negative online review was blocked'" discusses this issue.

The UK recently proposed rules that would make writing and commissioning fake reviews illegal.

But while much of the attention has focused on the problem of fake reviews, experts say sellers are distorting customer perception in other ways as well, using practices like displaying reviews to their advantage, selectively soliciting comments - and in extreme cases, supressing bad feedback altogether.

...

"Many companies start with an honest agenda, which is to remove fake negative reviews… but when they do it, it becomes a slippery slope," says Prof Bin Gu of Boston University's Questrom School of Business. "It's very hard to know when to stop."

In January, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a $4.2m settlement with fast fashion clothier Fashion Nova over charges it had blocked hundreds of thousands of poor customer reviews between 2015 and 2019.

...

The deal marked the first case to crack down on a firm for hiding bad reviews.

I cannot find any law or regulation specifically making the practice of deleting bad reviews illegal under UK law. But it might be treated as an unfair and misleading practice.

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  • Interestingly, all the reviews have now been reinstated, including the 5-star ones which were (all of them) obviously for another product (but the same incorrect product from their detail). All the 1-star reviews (including mine) appear to be genuine, with a single 4-star review. A commenter on some other site wrote they they ignore all 5-star reviews (as fakes) and all 1-star reviews (as serial complainers)! Jul 21, 2022 at 18:36
  • @Weather Vane One should also note that you don't know why reviews were removed., Negative reviews could have been determined to be fakes themselves, posted by a competitor. All reviews might be removed for site maintenance or update. There might be other valid reasons. Removal of only negative reviews is suspicious, at least. Jul 21, 2022 at 18:44
  • I tried to report the 'wrong product' reviews, but the assumed reason is for 'abuse'. There is no opportunity to state why the review is inappropriate, so the site admins might just glance at it and think 'nothing wrong with that'. Jul 21, 2022 at 18:45
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This is illegal misleading and deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law

Businesses and review platforms that selectively remove or edit reviews, particularly negative reviews, for commercial or promotional reasons may be misleading consumers. If the total body of reviews doesn’t reflect the opinions of consumers who have submitted the reviews consumers may be misled.

Content moderation policies of review platforms ensure users and businesses have a clear understanding of when and why online consumer reviews will be removed. It is recommended that consumer review platforms make their policy for publishing and removing consumer content accessible to platform users.

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  • it may be misleading, but doesn't necessarily have to be - the reviews might violate the policies of acceptable use (e.g. might be full of profanity or such).
    – Trish
    Jul 21, 2022 at 10:25
  • @Trish read the whole extract. If you can demonstrate that the post was removed for that reason it isn’t a violation
    – Dale M
    Jul 21, 2022 at 12:18
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    Thanks for the informative answer. I accepted an answer that addressed UK law specifically. Jul 21, 2022 at 18:39
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It is legal for a website to remove reviews from its pages.

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    In what jurisdiction and under what law re you saying that this is illegal? Jul 20, 2022 at 23:27
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    Thank you for the answer, but I have no doubt that is is legal to remove reviews, if there are genuine reasons for it. Jul 21, 2022 at 18:37

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