Posting phoney reviews on sites such as Amazon and Tripadvisor could soon land you in court, according to this article in The Times
 over the weekend.

The paper says firms could be ‘named and shamed’ or even prosecuted when a European directive banning them from “falsely representing oneself as a consumer” comes into force in the UK at the end of this year.

It adds that the new regulations “will apply to authors who praise their own books under a fake identity on websites such as Amazon”.

The Times – not the quickest UK paper to embrace social media – seems to have a bit of a downer on user-generated review sites, having conducted a ‘special investigation‘ last year into PR-based posts and the impact the web is having on ‘professional’ travel guides.

It ridiculed the owner of a hotel near Loch Ness, for anonymously posting on TripAdvisor that his establishment was “outstanding” and “charming”.

Fears have also been raised elsewhere about the practices of review sites such as Yelp and paid blogging agencies like Payperpost.

According to the paper, the new rules are part of a Europe-wide overhaul of consumer protection laws:  

“It will oblige businesses not to mislead consumers and also will outlaw aggressive commercial practices such as aggressive doorstep selling, bogus ‘closing down’ sales and pressurising parents through their children to buy products.”

Naming and shaming may be a good incentive to deter cheats, but prosecution seems a little far-fetched. How would this be policed? And who would enforce it? More to the point perhaps, just how many readers are taken in by the fake posts on Amazon anyway? Doesn’t everybody take these things with a pinch of salt?

Also, are fake reviewers any more unethical than a travel agent who is more interested in selling you a holiday that they want to get rid of, rather than the best fit for you?

Perhaps a more sensible approach, which various people in the industry have already been calling for, would be a kitemark scheme to inform consumers about reviewers’ trustworthiness.