Fake reviews online? Help at hand, finally.

Online marketplaces such as Amazon, Flipkart and Myntra may soon have to root out fake product reviews, as the government turns the heat on the menace that frequently leads to frustration and financial losses.

The marketplaces will also be prohibited from editing user reviews to alter their message, and must ensure that the original content and intent of the reviewer are preserved, a top government official said. Companies will also be disallowed from preventing negative reviews.

The consumer affairs ministry has proposed a quality control order (QCO) to put a check on such reviews, said Nidhi Khare, secretary, consumer affairs. “One of the key provisions of the proposed QCO is the prohibition of publishing consumer reviews online collected with bias and prejudice,” Khare said.

The changes are expected to encourage e-commerce firms to address genuine consumer grievances rather than suppress negative feedback.

Khare said that all e-commerce companies will have to comply with the new norms, and violators will be liable for punishment under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), as QCOs fall under the purview of the BIS. Products may also be delisted from designated portals. “E-commerce platforms offer a virtual shopping experience, limiting consumers’ ability to physically inspect products. As a result, consumers heavily rely on reviews from other users to make informed decisions,” said Khare. “These online reviews serve as social proof, providing insights and confidence to potential buyers, ultimately influencing their purchasing choices. It should not be manipulated to push the sale of any product.”

A QCO refers to a directive issued by the government to regulate the quality of products to ensure they meet certain standards to protect consumers and promote fair trade practices. The ministry’s decision came after a stakeholders’ consultation held on Wednesday. The meeting was chaired by Khare and attended by representatives of major online platforms such as Google, Meta, Amazon and Flipkart.

Queries emailed to spokespersons of Flipkart, Amazon and Meesho remained unanswered till press time.

Fake reviews of e-commerce products and services have become more than just an annoyance, with shoppers depending on them for their spends. Complaints registered on the national consumer helpline (NCH) against such fake reviews surged from 95,270 in 2018 to 444,034 in 2023, comprising 22% and 43% of all complaints, respectively.

The government’s initiative has been welcomed by stakeholders, who recognize the importance of combatting fake reviews in protecting consumer interests while shopping online.

“Despite a year-long voluntary effort, fake feedback persists, prompting decisive government intervention. This crackdown marks a critical moment in the battle against consumer deception, impacting the entire ecosystem,” said Siva Balakrishnan, founder and CEO of Vserve, an e-business solution provider.

“The government’s stance is pivotal in restoring marketplace faith, signalling consequences for dishonest practices, and promoting fair competition. However, addressing this issue requires a collective effort, including informed consumers,” Balakrishnan said.

To enforce these provisions, all e-commerce portals will be required to implement appropriate mechanisms for the collection, moderation, and publication of online consumer reviews in compliance with the principles and requirements specified in Indian Standard IS 19000:2022—launched in November 2022.

By cracking down on fake reviews, the QCO is expected to enhance consumer trust and confidence in online platforms, leading to a more transparent and accountable online marketplace. The draft QCO will be placed for public consultation, allowing stakeholders and the public to submit comments and suggestions within a prescribed time frame.

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