Aiming to guard customers from fake online reviews of products, the government on Monday issued a comprehensive set of guidelines which would come into effect from 25th November and would be voluntary in nature.
The guidelines titled "Indian Standard (IS) 19000:2022 Online Consumer Reviews - Principles and Requirements for their Collection, Moderation and Publication", will be applicable to every online platform which publishes consumer reviews.
These have been finalised by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and came into being after the department of consumer affairs received a slew of complaints on fake review of products being posted by several e-commerce companies on the social media and on web portals.
BIS will also develop a conformity assessment scheme for the standard within 15 days to assess compliance.
Secretary, consumer affairs, Rohit Kumar Singh told media persons that, to begin with, all stakeholders would have to ensure self-regulation.
However, if it is found that fake reviews are still being circulated, then complaints can be made to the various consumer fora and tribunals, he said.
Regarding penalising erring entities indulging in fake reviews, the secretary said that the decision regarding that would be taken by the consumer fora and tribunals, to whom the complaints would be referred.
He also said that 11 major e-retailers like Zomato, Swiggy, Tata Sons, Reliance Retail, Meta, and Amazon, among others, took part in the consultations for preparing the guidelines. They were also part of the committee along with the BIS which formulated the guidelines.
The guidelines prescribe specific responsibilities for the review author and the review administrator. For review authors, these include confirming acceptance of terms and conditions and providing contact information; and, for review administrator, these include safeguarding personal information and training of staff.
Violation of the standards by any entity may be considered as an unfair trade practice or violation of consumer rights and a consumer may submit such grievances to the national consumer helpline, consumer fora or the CCPA (central consumer protection authority).
The standard provides for responsibilities of organisation including developing a code of practice, and necessary stipulations for terms and conditions like accessibility, criteria and ensuring that 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 analysing the review content. As regards 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 guidelines have been prepared by the bureau of indian standards (BIS) on the basis of the report by a committee which was formed in June this year.
The committee consisted of stakeholders like Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the department of consumer affairs.
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