What does the law say?
In France, as in the rest of the European Union, the right to freedom of expression applies, allowing web users to publicly voice their opinion on products or services they have purchased. French consumers are therefore legally allowed to alert other web users about the faults and defects of certain products and to publicly praise the qualities of others.
There are limits however. Fraudulent behavior, such as denigration, defamation and deceptive marketing practices, are reprehensible. Thus, falsely presenting oneself as a consumer, publishing comments with the sole purpose of harming a company, or sharing comments or insults aimed directly at a specific person are strictly forbidden.
In order to provide consumers with better information, the French government recently promulgated the “Law for a Digital Republic”, requiring any website displaying customer feedback to specify how it was collected and moderated (proof of purchase, negative feedback moderation, author identity checking…).
Summary of the most common fraudulent practices
- Abusive moderation of customer reviews
Though deleting offensive, defamatory or unfounded content is permitted by law, filtering and removing all negative reviews to protect one’s e-reputation is not. Yet according to french consumer group UFC Que Choisir, around 1/3 of all websites resort to such practices.
Another technique, slightly less widespread, consists of gradually publishing negative customer reviews, so they are always perfectly diluted in a mass of positive feedback and thus difficultly visible by web users.
- Writing or purchasing fake reviews
Other companies go even further by pretending to be consumers and leaving feedback on their own products, or buying fake reviews from marketing agencies or freelance copywriters, most of which are located abroad. However, the are generally easy to spot by regulartory authorities such as theDGCCRF : getting a large number of reviews over a short period of time, or consumers leaving reviews on multiple stores situated in different towns in the space of a few hours are just two signs which will draw attention.
- Incentivized reviews
Lest but not least, come incentivized reviews, which are not a fraudulent practice as such, but can largely influence product ratings. Incentivized reviews are reviews written in exchange for a free product or discount. Such reviews are globally more positive than average, as shown by Reviewmeta’s 2016 study of Amazon customer reviews.
The study found that customers who received free or highly discounted items in exchange for reviews, rated products an average 0.48 stars higher than customers who purchased the item at the standard price, without any particular contact with the brand. Amazon has since edited its user guidelines to limit this type of review, but other websites continue to use the practice.
How to ensure online reviews are authentic?
The best solution in France today is to follow AFNOR’s NF Z74-501 standard on consumer reviews : “Online Consumer Reviews Principles and Requirements for Collection, Moderation & Display”. These customer feedback guidelines enable the reliable processing of feedback published online and include the banning of purchased feedback, the obligation to identify the author and display all collected feedback in chronological order.
Here at WizVille, we are convinced that this standard is the best solution for encouraging authentic customer reviews. Our founder, Timothée de Laitre, took part in the preliminary work of creating this standard and helped publicize the issues surrounding false consumer reviews in the early years of 2010.
Moreover, it seems to us that the best way to promote genuine reviews is to only request feedback from people who have proof of purchase. This is how Trustville, the third-party consumer review platform created by WizVille works, in conformity with AFNOR’s consumer review standard.