According to the ACCC, Service Seeking launched a “Fast Feedback” feature on its site in July 2016 which allows tradespeople and businesses to write a review of a transaction themselves and send it to the relevant customer for their approval.
But if the customer did not respond within three days, that review was then automatically published to the site under that business’ name.
An investigation of the review process suggested that at least 80 per cent of these reviews had not been written or even approved by customers.
That amounted to grossly misleading customers, who the ACCC said place considerable value on the reviews of other customers when determining which companies to do business with.
“We allege that Service Seeking’s conduct gave businesses a chance to effectively rate and review themselves without any input from the customer,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
“Businesses are warned that online reviews need to accurately reflect the independent views and feedback of genuine customers or the business risks breaching the Australian Consumer Law.”
Service Seeking declined to comment while the matter is before the court.
However it referred My Business to a guide on its site about using the Fast Feedback tool, that states “Leave yourself a feedback rating for jobs you’ve done in the past using pre-formatted comments. This feature does not allow yourself to 'write your own review' but rather it asks you to select what you think you did well from a pre-defined set of options”.
It said the tool was created “in response to a very common issue our business members have. They are frustrated that only a small proportion of customers would leave them a review even after they’d done a good job. And not because they didn’t deserve one, but because the customer would forget to go online, or forget their password to our website. Only a very small proportion of satisfied customers leave reviews”.
Earlier this year, Meriton was fined $3 million for attempting to influence customer reviews in its favour.
Business owner Daniel Papanikolaou previously told My Business that fake or illegitimate reviews are undermining customer trust, which is why he opted to use a review platform to externally verify that reviews posted to his company’s website are actually from a paying customer.