The Central government is set to make it mandatory for ecommerce platforms to comply with its guidelines against fake and misleading user reviews. Last November, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA), along with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), had come out with a framework ‘Indian Standard (IS) 19000:2022’ to curb fake reviews, but compliance was on a voluntary basis.
“We have given them enough time to figure out what needs to be done. Now we’ll say you have to implement this [the framework] if you want to do ecommerce in India. It’ll become part of the laws,” said Rohit Kumar Singh, secretary at DoCA.
The government plans to hold one more round of stakeholder consultation to finalise the framework before it becomes a law. The consultation proceedings may begin as soon as next week, according to the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Once the framework against fake reviews becomes mandatory, violators will be charged under ‘unfair trade practices’ of the Consumer Protection Act. The framework will be applicable for ecommerce players like Amazon, Flipkart, Meesho, Myntra and similar platforms that facilitate online commercial activities.
User reviews on ecommerce platforms often act as a feedback mechanism, that allow sellers and platforms to establish their reputation among online users. However, ecommerce channels have been rife with fake and planted user reviews, aimed at creating a wrong impression among prospective buyers.
The government’s framework against fake reviews will act against false positive reviews written by sellers themselves to mislead consumers, and also against false negative reviews written by any seller’s competitor with the intention of warding off consumers from any company.
Indian Standard (IS) 19000:2022, titled ‘Online Consumer Reviews — Principles and Requirements for their Collection, Moderation and Publication’, required all ecommerce channels to set up review administrators, who will then vet users reviews using automated or manual tools for detecting fake ones. It also asked the platforms to establish a written code of practice on how it goes about the review management process, a copy of which should be made available to consumers in an easily accessible manner.
Some changes will be made to the existing framework following the industry consultation process so that “it does not become an impediment to the companies' ease of doing business”, said Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh.
It is not clear whether platforms like Google Maps, which hosts user reviews for commercial establishments without participating in the commercial activity by itself, will come under the purview of the framework against fake reviews.