Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fake bloggers soon to be ‘named and shamed’
Fake bloggers soon to be ‘named and shamed’
Sam Coates, Political Correspondent

Hotels, restaurants and online shops that post glowing reviews about themselves under false identities could face criminal prosecution under new rules that come into force next year.

Businesses which write fake blog entries or create whole wesbites purporting to be from customers will fall foul of a European directive banning them from “falsely representing oneself as a consumer”.

From December 31, when the change becomes law in the UK, they can be named and shamed by trading standards or taken to court.

The Times has learnt that the new regulations also will apply to authors who praise their own books under a fake identity on websites such as Amazon.

Online consumer reviews are playing an ever greater role in shaping shopping habits, with websites such as TripAdvisor for the travel industry being seen as increasingly influential.

However, a string of businessman in the UK and the US have been caught posing as supposedly independent customers in an attempt to boost sales.

A recent investigation found that poorly rated travel establishments could lift their reputations from one to four stars in hours by posting fictional positive reviews.

Shortly before Christmas, the owner of the Drumnadrochit Hotel near Loch Ness admitted to posting a fake review of his own venue on the TripAdvisor site, calling it “outstanding” and “charming”. David Bremner said: “Maybe I shouldn’t have done it. But I don’t think it’s that big a deal.”

In 2004, it emerged that John Rechy gave himself a five-star review on Amazon for his book The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens, which was attributed only to “a reader from Chicago”. Amazon since has tightened up procedures to try and verify the identity of reviewers.

The change is part of a Europe-wide overhaul of the consumer protection laws. It will oblige businesses not to mislead consumers and also will outlaw aggressive commercial practices such as aggressive doorstep selling, bogus “closing down” sales and pressurising parents through their children to buy products.