In a bid to protect consumer interests, the Centre, on Monday, released a framework for checking fake reviews on e-commerce platforms. The framework, which will initially be voluntary for the industry, stated that e-commerce players should make a disclosure about reviews garnered in exchange of rewards by marking them separately. It also stated the methodology used for ratings garnered through aggregation of reviews, such as in the case of restaurants and hotels, should be disclosed to consumers.

Rohit Singh, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, said that the Bureau of Indian Standards has finalised the Indian Standard (IS 19000:2022) that provides a framework for collection, moderation and publication of online consumer reviews, and will come into effect from Friday. “We want the industry players to adopt the standards on a voluntary basis and we may look at making it mandatory at a later stage in case the menace of fake reviews continues on the online platforms,” he added. India is one of the first countries to come out with a standard of this nature to tackle fake reviews.

Singh said leading players such as Amazon, Flipkart, Zomato, Swiggy, Blinkit, Google, Meta and Reliance Retail, besides industry bodies such as CII, FICCI, ASCI and CAIT, were part of several rounds of deliberations before the standard was finalised.

He added that BIS will develop a Conformity Assessment Scheme in the next 15 days to assess compliance. Online platforms can then get certified by BIS for being in compliance with the Indian Standard for online consumer reviews.

The framework also states that reviews that “have been purchased or written by individuals employed for that purpose by the supplier or by a third party” cannot be published. “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,”Singh stated.

The standard prescribes specific responsibilities for authors of reviews such as supplying contact information and the administrator of reviews such as safeguarding personal information of reviewers.

“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 content does not contain financial information etc,”the official statement added.

With respect to moderation, the standard provides for both automated and manual moderation and checks for analysing the review content. The framework states that review administrators should ensure accuracy and authenticity of reviews is maintained while publishing along with other details such as date of submission, weightage given in overall ratings, and filtering processes, among others. 

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