Competition watchdog clamps down on agency that wrote 800 fake reviews

The UK's competition watchdog has taken action against an online marketing company that wrote more than 800 fake reviews between 2014 and 2015.

The company, Total SEO & Marketing, has promised the Competition and Markets Authority to stop writing fake reviews and said it will take steps to remove those already posted.

It published the fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses across 26 different websites. The small businesses concerned include car dealers, mechanics and landscape gardeners.

In addition, the CMA has written to Total SEO’s clients to warn them that third parties writing false reviews on their behalf might lead to them breaking the law.

The CMA has also issued advice to businesses on how to comply with consumer protection law in relation to online reviews. It advises that PR, marketing and SEO companies should not write or arrange fake reviews on behalf of their clients and businesses should not commission third parties to write them.

The CMA said in a press statement that Total SEO had "co-operated with the CMA’s consumer law investigation".

This comes after the recent announcement that two websites offering a tradespeople-search service and a further three sites that carry care home reviews agreed to improve their practices for online reviews.

These cases follow an investigation launched by the CMA in June 2015 after concerns were raised not just about fake reviews, but also genuine, negative reviews not being published, as well as businesses paying for blog endorsements and other online articles.

Nisha Arora, the CMA's senior director, consumer, said: "This is our latest action to ensure that consumers can trust in the opinions that they read on online, following the CMA’s report last summer into online reviews and endorsements.

"In the next few weeks, we expect to announce the outcome of our investigation into unlabelled endorsements."

Yesterday, ad regulator the ASA warned brands and bloggers that posts on Instagram that constituted advertising should be clearly labelled, for example with the hashtag #ad.

This story was originally published on PRWeek sister title Marketing

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