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Govt unveils framework to curb fake reviews on e-commerce sites

Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said the standards will apply to every online platform which publishes consumer reviews.

In a statement, the Department of Consumer Affairs said, “Over the last few years, there has been a steady rise in e-commerce transactions across the country.” (Representational)

The Union government Monday unveiled a framework of standards to curb fake reviews on e-commerce websites. The framework, ‘Indian Standard (IS) 19000:2022’, has been prepared by the Bureau of Indian Standards and will come into effect from November 25.

Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said the standards will apply to every online platform which publishes consumer reviews.

“IS 19000:2022 is the standard that the BIS [Bureau of Indian Standards] has formulated for us, in consultation with us and the industry. Public consultations have taken place. Now, this is ready to be launched. While we unveil the main provisions of this standard today, this will be published on Friday… On 25th [November] this will be in place,” Singh said, addressing a press conference.

Singh said: “ Reviews play a critical role in shopping in e-commerce. They are more important in three sectors — tour and travel; restaurant and eateries; and consumer durables.”

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“We were getting complaints that these reviews are becoming menace… Not only for us but all over the world, countries are struggling with how to handle the fake reviews… All the countries where e-commerce is getting more and more privileged and popular, so they are all struggling with this. Some are making rules; some are making legal provisions. But I think we are the first country… which is making a standard and we will take the standards rule,” Singh said.

Singh made it clear that the framework of standards will be voluntary initially.

“We do not want to bulldoze the industry. We want to take the standards route. We will first seek voluntary compliance and then, if the menace continues to grow, we will maybe make it mandatory in future depending on what happens,” Singh said, explaining the rationale behind the standards.

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Singh said that the new standards will be applicable to everyone who publishes reviews online and will cover solicited and unsolicited both kinds of reviews.

The reviews should be legitimate and the process of collecting, moderating and publishing of consumer reviews should be accurate, he said, adding that it should not be misleading. He said that protection of review authors’ personal information should be ensured.

Singh said: “This is not a judicial order. We have developed a framework and we want all e-commerce entities to adopt this framework as soon as possible and adhere to the standards.”

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“So, if they want to check whether their website is adhering to the standards, they can go to the BIS and get it checked and get it certified. But, if they are not doing it and if they are indulging into a practice of which can then be termed as an unfair trading practice then under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, that deals with unfair trade practices, the CCPA or a consumer court can take penal action. So, this is a sort of a hand holding and a self-regulation,” he said.

Singh also informed that the industry players like Tata Sons, Amazon, Flipkart, Reliance Retail, Google, Meta (Facebook), Swiggy and Zomato participated in the consultation process of finalization of the standards on fake reviews.

Besides, industry bodies like CII, FICCI and NASSCOM were also part of the consultation process, he said.

In a statement, the Department of Consumer Affairs said, “Over the last few years, there has been a steady rise in e-commerce transactions across the country.”

“Taking cognizance of the impact of fake and deceptive reviews and protection of consumer interest in e-commerce, the Department of Consumer Affairs constituted a committee to develop a framework on checking fake and deceptive reviews in e-commerce on 10th June, 2022. The committee included various stakeholders including e-commerce companies, industry associations, consumer organizations and law chairs,” the statement said.

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The statement said, “The standard is expected to benefit all stakeholders in the e-commerce ecosystem i.e., consumers, e-commerce platforms, sellers etc. It will help usher in confidence among consumers to purchase goods online and help them take better purchase decisions.”

“The standard provides for responsibilities of organization including developing a code of practice, and necessary stipulations for terms and conditions like accessibility, criteria, and ensuring content does not contain financial information etc.,” the statement said.

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“The standard also provides for methods for verification of review author through email address, identification by telephone call or SMS, confirming registration by clicking on a link, using captcha system etc. to check traceability and genuineness of the review author,” it said.

“With respect to moderation, the standard provides for both automated and manual moderation and provides checks for analyzing the review content. As regards to publication, the standard includes considerations for the review administrator at the time of publication process and after the publication process. The accuracy of the review, default display and weightage of ratings are defined in the publication process,” it added.

First published on: 22-11-2022 at 04:33 IST
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