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Sansad TV: Perspective- Curb on Fake Reviews

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Introduction:

In a bid to make the online world and e-commerce more authentic and less misleading for users, the Union government has unveiled a framework of standards to curb fake online reviews and unverified ratings. Formulated by the Bureau of Indian Standards, it’ll be applicable to any organisation which publishes consumer reviews online and will cover both solicited and unsolicited kinds of reviews. According to Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh, India probably is the first country in the world to formulate a standard for online reviews. It was necessitated because of the vital role online reviews play in making purchase decisions on e-commerce platforms and increasing incidents of consumers being misled into buying online products and services. Initially, they’ll be voluntary, but the government will consider making them mandatory in case the menace of fake reviews continues on the online platforms, as per the Consumer Affairs Secretary.

Framework for safeguarding and protecting consumer interest:

  • Department of Consumer Affairs, along with senior officers of the department and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) launched the framework titled Indian Standard (IS) 19000:2022 ‘Online Consumer Reviews — Principles and Requirements for their Collection, Moderation and Publication.
  • The standards will be applicable to every online platform which publishes consumer reviews.
  • The standard will initially be voluntary for compliance by all e-commerce platform. BIS will also develop a Conformity Assessment Scheme for the standard to assess compliance.
  • The guiding principles of the standard are integrity, accuracy, privacy, security, transparency, accessibility and responsiveness.
  • The standard prescribes specific responsibilities for the review author and the review administrator. For review author, these include confirming acceptance of terms and conditions, providing contact information and for review administrator, these include safeguarding personal information and training of staff.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Over the last few years, there has been a steady rise in e-commerce transactions across the country. Reviews posted online play a significant role in making purchase decisions and consumers exceedingly rely on reviews posted on e-commerce platforms to see the opinion and experience of users who have already purchased the good or service.
  • Given that e-commerce involves a virtual shopping experience without any opportunity to physically view or examine the product, it is essential that reviews are genuine, authentic and trustworthy.

Need for regulation:

  • With such a large market share, these significant data fiduciaries have an obligation to abide by the law of the land, in the interest of the data subjects in India at large.
  • The recent stand taken by some of the data fiduciaries indicates that they are using their significant market power to defy rules of the land in which they operate.
  • While a democratic country such as India always has legal recourse and the judiciary to oversee undue exercise of power by the State, this should not be taken as the first step by the data fiduciaries, as has been recently done.

Challenges before the government:

  • Too stringent a policy of policing could violate the individual’s right to privacy.
  • It’s not easy to force to give up on the app’s unique selling proposition to the user of complete end-to-end confidentiality.

Way forward

  • Technology has its own benefits, especially social media with wide outreach. In the midst of a pandemic, there was WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter for SOS calls.
  • There can be no dispute that we need online players to enable us to emerge out of this crisis; to come to terms with whatever losses we have had to face.
  • The government should regulate these, but not to the extent that it is difficult for them to do business in India.