Online reviews for restaurants and other businesses have become enormously influential, so of course there are plenty of people out there trying to game the system to make a buck. In the UK, the government is cracking down to make sure its citizens aren't shelling out their hard-earned money under false pretenses, reports the International Business Times.
Following a recent investigation of an SEO and online marketing company that was revealed to have published hundreds of fake online reviews, the country's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is on a mission to stop fabricated reviews from being posted and to remove the ones that already exist. The CMA has issued a list of guidelines for businesses, explaining how they can avoid running aground of consumer protection laws; aside from the obvious (businesses should not pose as consumers to post positive reviews), they must also refrain from offering gifts, free meals, or other incentives for customers who post positive reviews.
According to the CMA, more than half of UK consumers use online reviews to decide what to buy, and online reviews influence more than $32 billion of UK consumer spending each year. The regulator has the power to go after consumer protection law violators with civil or even criminal proceedings.
UK regulators aren't the only ones trying to crack down on fake reviews: In France, a user of a review site was taken to court and ultimately fined more than $8,000 for posting a fabricated restaurant review. Last year in the U.S., Yelp sued a company that allegedly sold fake positive reviews to restaurants, and for good reason: A 2013 study by Harvard Business School indicated that, at least in the Boston area, 16 percent of Yelp restaurant reviews were fake.