Online Consumer Reviews are Now Subject to Audit
On 19 September 2023, Consumer Reviews Guide (“Guide”) was published on the Turkish Ministry of Trade’s website, based on the Turkish Advertising Board’s decision dated 12 September 2023 and numbered 337.
This Guide explains the general issues regulated in the Commercial Advertisement and Unfair Commercial Practices Regulation with examples and concretizes the Advertising Board’s approach in decisions.
The Guide covers and defines consumer reviews as “Expression, approval and rating practices that indicate all types of consumer experiences made by consumers on the internet regarding a purchased good or service or a seller or provider and intermediary service provider”. According to this definition, consumer comments, points, or stars on online shopping websites are considered consumer reviews. The Guide also applies to reviews on complaint platforms whose main field of activity is to enable the publication of consumer complaints.
However, the followings are not within the scope of the Guide:
Consumer reviews made online by natural persons and legal entities who do not act on behalf of a seller or provider; and provide information about the experience regarding a good, service, seller or provider, and
Reviews regarding purchases and practices that are not within the scope of consumer transactions.
According to the Guide, reviews are only allowed to be made by those who purchased the relevant goods or services. In case of order cancellation, contract termination, or exercise of the right of withdrawal, reviews made limited to the experiences up to the stage of the purchasing process are also considered within the scope of purchasing.
On the other hand, provided that it complies with other provisions in the Guide, consumer reviews may be published online by sellers, providers, or intermediary service providers in the following cases:
Consumer reviews regarding a good or service on the website or platform of the seller or provider, if purchased from the physical store of the same.
Consumer reviews regarding a good or service on the online store of a seller on an intermediary service provider’s online platform, if purchased from the physical store or website of the same, based on the agreement made between the parties.
Consumer reviews on a website where consumers share their experiences by purchasing a good or service, which indicate where the goods/services were purchased or provide links.
In addition, the Guide regulates the following subjects regarding consumer reviews:
Consumer reviews should be published by seller, provider or intermediate service provider according to the objective criteria such as date, review score, and ranking, without guiding, for at least one year, without distinguishment between positive or negative.
If consumer reviews contain health claims contrary to the relevant legislation, these cannot be published.
If the consumer's grievance regarding the reviewed goods or services has been resolved by the seller or provider, this situation should be published without delay in the same place as the first review.
No agreement or cooperation can be made regarding the procurement of services from third parties regarding the review that does not reflect reality or the use of expressions and symbols that indicate approval.
According to the Guide, seller, provider, or intermediary service providers are obliged to inform consumers about the publication criteria of the reviews, the review process, and how the score is calculated. Furthermore, intermediary service providers must indicate that the review is made by a consumer who purchased that good or service, with phrases such as “Purchased from…” or “Verified user”.
The Guide also regulates misleading consumer reviews and the procedures and principles regarding these reviews. Accordingly, symbols and expressions indicating liking or approval made in exchange for a benefit for the shares made on the seller's or provider's social media account are considered misleading consumer reviews and misleading reviews cannot be published. Further, the Guide regulates the following regarding misleading consumer reviews:
Reviews of a different seller or provider, or a different good or service than the one a consumer purchased, are considered misleading and cannot be published.
Actions cannot be taken to increase the visibility of positive consumer reviews or to change the objective ranking results of reviews in exchange for a specific benefit to benefit sellers or providers.
The publication of negative reviews cannot be prevented by intervening in the process of collecting and processing consumer reviews and establishing connections with other websites, the visibility of businesses through search engines cannot be increased misleadingly by manipulating relevant data, people who do not purchase goods or services cannot be directed to make reviews or use symbols indicating approval, and all these reviews cannot be published in different media.
If a published consumer review is found to be misleading, the review must be removed immediately.
In addition, not only sellers, suppliers, and intermediary service providers, but also advertisers, advertising agencies and media organizations are regulated to be responsible for misleading consumer comments and the implementation of the provisions of the Guide.
Consumer reviews, which are frequently used on online shopping platforms, brought many problems along in terms of consumer protection. This Guide aims to prevent consumers from being deceived by misleading reviews and unrealistic score rankings. In this regard, the consumer review criteria that sellers, providers and intermediary service providers will publish in the near future are eagerly awaited.
Authors: Hatice Ekici Tağa, Sümeyye Uçar, Ebru Gümüş