FTC Guides on Consumer Reviews – How compliant are you?

In May 2022, the FTC’s updated guidance provides insight into how businesses can avoid deception when collecting or using consumer reviews. The newly released guidance also explains how businesses can use consumer reviews in a way that complies with the FTC’s existing rules.

The use of consumer reviews has become increasingly common in recent years. As businesses have become more reliant on online reviews, the FTC has taken a closer look at how businesses use them. In its most recent guidance, the FTC makes it clear that businesses must not engage in deceptive practices when collecting or using consumer reviews.

“In procuring, suppressing, boosting, organizing, or editing consumer reviews of their products, advertisers should not take actions that have the effect of distorting or otherwise misrepresenting what consumers think of their products, regardless of whether the reviews are considered endorsements under the Guides.”

The FTC’s guidance explains that businesses must not make false or misleading claims about the objectivity of a review. Businesses must also not make false or misleading claims about the source of a review. For example, businesses cannot claim that a review is from an independent third-party when it is actually from the business itself. In addition, businesses cannot pay for positive reviews or incentivize consumers to write positive reviews.  According to the FTC, review gating (including indirectly paying for reviews) and hiding or deleting negative reviews are also misleading practices which would not be allowed.

The FTC’s guidance also makes it clear that businesses must take steps to ensure that reviews are accurate and not misleading. To do this, businesses should consider implementing policies and procedures to verify the accuracy of reviews before they are published. In addition, businesses should take action if they receive a complaint about a review that is inaccurate or misleading.

In addition, businesses should disclose any material connections between the business and the reviewer.   The FTC also provides examples of how review gating (including paying for fake reviews) and suppressing or removing negative reviews may give rise to misleading practices which would not be allowed.  Lastly, a seller could possibly withhold content that is uniformly considered to be “unlawful, harassing, abusive, obscene, vulgar, or sexually explicit” by using specific criteria.

The release of the FTC’s new guidance on consumer reviews provides valuable insight into how businesses can avoid deception when collecting or using consumer reviews. The guidance also explains how businesses can use consumer reviews in a way that complies with the FTC’s existing rules. By following the advice in the new guidance, businesses can ensure that their use of consumer reviews is fair and transparent.

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