Are fake reviews illegal? An interview with specialist attorney Karsten Gulden

In this part of our blog series, we'll show you how to assess fake reviews from a legal perspective

Maria Hinz Created by Maria Hinz
on 02/23/2017 | 3 minutes reading time

After we've taken a general look at the topic of fake ratings in the first part of our blog series, we would now like to examine the legal aspects. We've asked an expert who is familiar with the topic of Internet ratings. Karsten Gulden, LL.M. - lawyer specializing in copyright and media law in Mainz answers our questions about fake ratings and legal consequences. He explains questions about liability and possible consequences for companies that buy positive ratings as well as those who want to harm competitors using negative ratings. In addition, we examine the question whether online ratings can be trusted at all, and what consumers can do about fake ratings.

interview with Karsten Gulden

Cheater's package: Buy or scheme your way to positive ratings.

Buying ratings, or simply giving yourself 5 stars. Is this just a small boost to one's image, or can it be legally problematic?

Positive fake reviews from non-customers may be a small image boost, since first impressions count, and good ratings certainly make for a good impression. As a rule, customers don't really see who wrote the review. However, fake reviews are not welcomed either by the portal operators, nor by the customers, whom they deceive. There are also legal problems with fake ratings. Companies that use fake ratings usually violate the Terms of Use of the review platform. This can lead to suspension. In addition, this form of behavior is anti-competitive. This means, that warning notices from competitors are a real threat.

Bought comments and ratings are often easy to spot because they follow a template. Who is responsible for this?

Those selling fake reviews is liable just like the company buying them to display on their profile. Consumer protection groups and competitors can report companies that present themselves with fake ratings on the web. It is also possible that the ratings platforms and companies that warn sellers and users of fake reviews can even claim damages.

Negative fake ratings from competitors and trolls

What can companies do about negative fake ratings from the competition?

It is easy to go into counterattack against your competition. Competitors can be warned and be forced to cease their tactics of using fake ratings in the future. This can get expensive for the warned companies, since they are responsible for the warning costs. The biggest obstacle is proof. Those wishing to get the competition served with a notice, has to be able to prove that they use fake ratings.

Letting out anger over the last car purchase, at your competition or former service provider: when does expressed opinion turn into defamation or even abuse?

Punishable statements are defamation, libel and slander. Likewise punishable are statements whose sole purpose is to portray the rated company in a negative light without any objective connection to the products and services. This must be proved on an individual basis.

In which cases is it recommended that a company get a lawyer?

Companies should find a lawyer if damaging ratings cannot be removed with minimal effort. Engaging the services of a lawyer has been proved to be the fastest and most economical way of protecting a company's reputation.

Online ratings: Trust, consumer protection and action recommendations

You use ProvenExpert yourself. Do you think that consumers can trust online ratings?

There is no guaranteed trust in ratings. You also have to keep in mind that many real ratings are very emotional and can contain exaggerations.

But consumers can trust their overall picture of the business. If you take the time to learn about a company, you will see the many sides from which it has been reviewed. Then, consumers will usually get an authentic overall picture.

What can users do about obviously fake ratings on review platforms?

Consumers can also pass on information to the ratings portals and consumer protection groups.

Thank you for the interview, Mr. Gulden!

You can find the review profile of gulden röttger | law office here.

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Maria Hinz

About the author

Maria Hinz is a marketing manager and is primarily responsible for content and communication. She always strikes the right note in texts by juggling around with wordings of every kind. She can be very loud when she's standing in the fan block at the ALBA basketball club in Berlin.

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