A representative of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently noted that consumers engage with online reviews to make decisions on whether to purchase a product or use a service (‘Wisdom to remove unfair contract terms’, ACCC Media Release 104/18, (located at: https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/wisdom-to-remove-unfair-contract-terms)).
Two recent ACCC actions indicate that attempts by businesses to control online reviews may not go unnoticed.
Attempting to Control the Opportunity to Provide Online Reviews
In ACCC v Meriton Property Services Pty Ltd, Meriton Property Pty Ltd (Meriton) was held by the Federal Court of Australia to have engaged in misleading conduct and misleading conduct in relation to the nature or suitability for purpose of services due to the practices undertaken by Meriton in relation to TripAdvisor online reviews through its use of TripAdvisor’s Review Express.
The Review Express service enabled Meriton to send the email address of guests who stayed at Meriton properties to TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor would then send invitations to the Meriton’s guests to complete a TripAdvisor review. The conduct Meriton engaged in to inhibit the completion of negative online reviews were as follows:
- the withholding of guest emails from TripAdvisor if there was a major disruption at a property; and
- putting the letters ‘msa’ in the email address of guests who made a complaint or were considered to be unlikely to give a positive review so that the email sent by TripAdvisor to that guest would not be delivered.
This conduct prevented guests likely to provide a negative review from making that review. The Court considered that the practices engaged in by Meriton had the result of generating the impression that the quality of Meriton properties was more ...