Guest article – with bought reviews warnings are threatening
The admissibility of self-review, reviews for money and purchased reviews.
Almost every company advertises its services on the Internet. Correspondingly good reviews are of considerable importance for success. For the majority of customers, such reviews are now the decisive criterion for which product or service provider they choose. The interest of companies in positive reviews is correspondingly high. The collection of good reviews is hard work and associated with a lot of effort. Therefore some enterprises get into temptation to procure themselves positive reviews on as simple a way as possible.
Beside the permissible way of the review by real and uninfluenced customers there are further possibilities of the review procurement. The following explanations deal with the admissibility of reviews under competition law, which are not given by customers of their own free will. The attention here lies on it:
- Reviews of the own company (self-review)
- Reviews by real customers against financial incentives
- Reviews by fictitious customers (purchased reviews)
In the event of infringements of competition law, these unfair acts are likely to result in warnings for which a fee will be charged.
If the entrepreneur rates himself and conceals this with a false name, this is anti-competitive according to § 5 Abs. 6 UWG and can lead to a warning by a competitor. Because self-review represent advertising treatments, which must be marked accordingly clearly as advertisement. In addition, self-evaluations constitute misleading advertising within the meaning of § 5 (1) No. 1 UWG. Untrue and misleading information about the company’s performance is provided.
Furthermore, most review portals (e.g. Google Maps or Jameda) stipulate that self-review represent an inadmissible manipulation of the reviews and are therefore inadmissible. Self-review can therefore be deleted directly by the portal operator.
Customer reviews for financial incentives
Anticompetitive actions also include the linking of customer reviews with benefits for the customer, such as the promise of a financial advantage against a good review. It is true that a mere request to the customer to rate the company is not yet objectionable under competition law. Such a request becomes problematic if the positive review is linked to a reward, such as a price reduction or a voucher for a future purchase. This was the case in which the German Higher Regional Court (OLG) in Hamm (judgment of 10 September 2013 – 4 U 84/13) had to decide. There a dealer had offered his customers subsequent discounts of 10 to 25% in several newsletters, if these submitted positive reviews for the dealer in a customer portal. This constitutes an anti-competitive act, as potential customers are misled. Independent reviews written on a voluntary basis on the basis of particular satisfaction are inadmissible. This is only permissible if the correspondingly purchased reviews are marked as such (i.e. paid reviews).
Note: The invitation to the customer to submit a paid review is already inadmissible. If a competitor or the competition headquarters becomes aware of this, an expensive warning may be issued.
Reviews by fictitious customers (purchased reviews)
Whether for Google Maps or for Jameda: The providers of fake reviews sprout from the ground like weeds. This refers to agencies with alleged headquarters abroad that offer the creation of positive reviews for a fee, without there having ever been any contact or experience between the author of the review and the company being reviewed. The publication of purchased fake valuations is usually anti-competitive and thus liable to pay the costs admonishable.
Since valuations are only permissible if they reflect actual experiences of customers of the company. This never applies to purchased reviews. Because if someone writes a review about a company with which he never had contact, this is not his own experience. Also a test call for the purpose of the artificial production of an review basis does not change anything here.
Of course the salesmen of the review, which sit e.g. in Cyprus or in Spain, do not designate their activities as illegal, but explicitly as legal. It is often cited as an argument that one merely „mediates“ these purchased reviews. This is legally complete nonsense and makes these fake reviews just as anti-competitive as artificially creating an impression of the respective company.
Competitors who gain verifiable knowledge of a review purchase can have their competitor warned for a fee if the consumer is misled. But it is not only competitors who threaten to issue warnings. In 2018, for example, the German physician review portal operator Jameda GmbH issued a warning to a physician about purchased reviews and requested him to cease and desist.
All companies and service providers are therefore strongly advised not to buy, fake or otherwise manipulate reviews. The consequence of such an approach can be a warning from a competitor under competition law that is subject to a fee.
Law firm Hechler
Lawyer Matthias Hechler and his law firm specialize in defending against warnings for copyright infringements and deletions of negative reviews on the Internet.
He studied law and business administration.
Lawyer Matthias Hechler has an experience with more than 17,000 file sharing warnings and more than 1,000 deleted reviews on the defense side since 2008.