Framework on fake online reviews: Will it make a real difference?

While the launch of the framework is a welcome baby-step, implementing this is far more complicated than what’s outlined, say experts

e4m by Kanchan Srivastava
Published: Nov 29, 2022 8:47 AM  | 6 min read
online review

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) last week announced a framework that aims to keep a check on fake reviews of products and services posted on ecommerce websites to misguide and lure consumers. 

The framework is crucial considering the explosion of e-commerce growth in India. India’s e-commerce/D2C market is expected to reach US$ 74.8 billion in 2022 and US$ 350 billion by 2030, as per a report of India Brand Equity Foundation, Union Ministry of Commerce. 

Online reviews play a significant role in making purchase decisions in virtual shopping where people don’t really view or examine the product physically. Hence, it is essential that reviews are genuine, authentic and trustworthy. However, fake reviews tend to deceive buyers with incorrect information and set wrong expectations from products/services. 


Lessons for marketers

Marketers need to be cautious now as dubious marketing practices- may land them in soup, experts say. 

Dissecting the malpractices in the digital marketing domain, Manisha Kapoor, CEO of ASCI, says, “There are two aspects to the issue of reviews- one is fake reviews which are put up by unverified users. There are also companies that provide fake reviews that can be purchased.  This is a matter of fraud.” 

“Another kind of review is an incentivised review which is a form of disguised advertising. In this case, the reviewer must disclose this fact of material connection, and platforms must provide for such disclosures. Disguised advertising where ad content mimics editorial or surround content make it difficult for consumers to make an informed choice. Incentivised reviews are also a form of disguised advertising. Such practices have been identified in our recent discussion paper on dark patterns as well,” explains Kapoor. 

Not only manufactured appreciation reviews, few brands also indulge in targeted negative reviews about rival brands just to defame them on etail platforms.  The murky business of digital marketing has no limits these days, media experts said. 

Consumers also accuse some leading platforms of restricting their true feedback. “I was devastated after buying certain products online. When I wanted to post my reviews on the platform, my review was put under their review and never got posted,” a senior media person said. 


Decline in ratings expected 

Akshit Baluja, Director, ORM & Analytics, FoxyMoron, Zoo Media, said, “Based on the compliance of these guidelines, brands with offerings that are incomplete or of a lower quality than what is listed on platforms can expect to see a decline in ratings, consideration, and sales, whereas dubious marketing techniques involving dishonest reviews that are fake or seeded should start to reduce overtime.”

“While many folks who shop at the sites know about the fake reviews and find ways to filter them out. There are many others who don’t and fall for them. But it is a twin sword. If your product or service does not match up you have lost a customer after the first sale itself. And worse you get a negative review and word of mouth as well,” adds Ajit Narayan, CMO, Socxo.

“Brands along with their online distribution and communication channels should use this opportunity to adhere to the introduced processes & standardisations that will help reduce such reviews to improve consumer trust down the purchase funnel”, Baluja advises. 

He explains, “Marketers should work with brands on effective communication methods to promote certification & compliance with the new guidelines and increase awareness among their customers & community of all aspects involved with the publishing and reading of genuine reviews.”


Will fake reviews stop?


Fake online reviews have become so common that the UK’s competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has launched an investigation early this year into whether online giants Amazon and Google are taking adequate action to protect consumers from bogus reviews posted on their websites. 

Approximately nine in 10 UK consumers stated they would check online reviews before buying from a particular business, according to Statista. Even more shoppers said they often avoid enterprises with a rating lower than four.

Amazon claims to have proactively stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews in 2020 alone, as per an Amazon blog post on its website in July 2022. Google also reportedly blocked 55 million reviews in 2020 that it deemed breached its policies. 

While many feel that the framework will deter marketers from indulging in wrongdoings, some experts say unless there is clarity over the framework and the operating guidelines, it's just lip service. 

Sandeep Goyal, MD of Rediffusion, says, “Malpractices could lead to penalties but that is really theoretical. Till there are some serious examples made, the fakes will continue. The government does not have any infrastructure to police what is fake and what is not. Lack of enforcement is a big hurdle,” Goyal remarks.  

Ajit Narayan, Chief Marketing Officer, Socxo, agrees with Goyal. “Fake reviews have been around since the internet was invented. Just that they went on steroids in a post social media world, not only e-commerce but also regular business which generates reviews on Google and other third-party sites.”


While the launch of the framework is a welcome baby-step, implementing this is far more complicated than what’s outlined. I went to the BIS site and had no idea where to find the actual framework on this. Once BIS communicates the framework, process and how it will work simply, we will know whether it will show results on the ground.”


Google is also bringing a new app review policy to make app ratings and reviews as genuine as possible in the Play Store, according to a report by Android Central. 


E-commerce players and leading FMCG and technology brands are yet to respond to the e4m questionnaire in this regard. The story will be updated as when they respond. 

 

What does the framework say?

Titled “Indian Standard (IS) 19000:2022 Online Consumer Reviews — Principles and Requirements for their Collection, Moderation and Publication”, the standards will be applicable to every online platform which publishes consumer reviews. It will initially be “voluntary for compliance” by all e-commerce platforms. BIS will also develop a Conformity Assessment Scheme in 15 days to assess compliance. 

“The standard will help usher in confidence among consumers to purchase goods online and help them make better purchase decisions,” the government said in a statement. 

Under the framework, platforms will be required to set up review administrators to moderate reviews using automated tools or manually to filter out biases and restrict fraudulent reviews. The reviews should also include the publishing date and star rating, the framework said.

Authors submitting reviews online will be required to verify their identity by platforms. Platforms will verify consumers’ identity from their email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses or by using a Captcha system, the guidelines said.

Consumers should not be allowed to edit their reviews and use foul language. Platforms should also restrict authors giving fraudulent reviews. The standards will be applicable to third party reviews as well. 

Besides, e-commerce players must also disclose as to how they choose the “most relevant reviews" for display in a fair and transparent manner.

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‘Monetisation of news platforms biggest challenge in digital era’

At e4m-DNPA Future of Digital Media Conference, Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, Businessworld & exchange4media, spoke to CEOs on monetisation, fake news, consumer attention & much more

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 30, 2023 10:58 AM   |   3 min read

DNPA

At the e4m-DNPA Future of Digital Media Conference, a panel discussion with CEOs of top companies was held to discuss digital media and how the new generation of readers is influencing media houses and their ways of connecting with their audiences.

The panel was chaired by Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, Businessworld & exchange4media. On the panel were Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP Network; Puneet Jain, CEO, Hindustan Times; Hemant Jain, President and Business Head (Digital), Lokmat, and Sanjay Sindhwani, CEO, The Indian Express (digital).

Avinash Pandey spoke about the challenges in the digital era. “The biggest challenge today is reaching out to the consumer. When everybody has become a publisher and a broadcaster, how your authentic news reaches the consumer first, and how you monetize it best is the biggest challenge today in our industry.”

Speaking on the opportunities that the digital world has created for publishers, Puneet Jain said: “I think the biggest opportunity for our publishers’ communities is the tremendous interest and love we see from our users. All of us continue to track millions who are using our platforms to consume news on a daily basis. In fact, what we are seeing is a huge reinforcement towards credible journalism in these interesting times of a social world we are living in.”

Sanjay Sindhwani veered the discussion to the problem of fake news and how publishers and consumers together can fight it. “The opportunity is massive. But I think the cost is also massive. I think today what is happening is if the media business doesn't become viable, then we'll see a lot of fake news floating around. When you're trying to bait clicks, you try to provoke people with things, which may not be real or factual. So, I think that's the cost of it. And I think in a democracy, it's very important that people value good content and good news sources and learn to pay for it.”

Taking the discussion ahead, Hemant Jain spoke about how the short attention span of consumers is the biggest challenge for consumers today. “While monetization continues to be the lowest common denominator and the most common challenge for most news publishers across the world, I think if you keep the consumer at the centre of your entire ecosystem and the business model, there is a huge shift in consumer behaviour with regard to the attention span. So, if you look at human attention today it is the lowest. Now, how do you evolve yourself keeping the shift in consumer behaviour in terms of newer formats of news media content, which ensures that you are able to create the right connect with the consumer and thereby create a great value proposition is something which would which all of us would have to kind of today embrace as one of our bigger challenges.”

He ends his view by talking about first-party data as a big opportunity for media publishers and how they can monetise it. “The big opportunity I see is our investment of time, money and resource in building the first-party data because it's not just about collecting data, but it's about managing customer lifecycle. So, most of us complain about the lesser frequency of visitations in a month, lesser time spent and how do we increase frequency and time spent to increase a better value proposition for advertisers? Now, that's interesting, because we have to start thinking like B2C brands, where we start not only capturing consumer data, but also start serving content which is more relevant more contextual, and in the process, collect enriched data, which can be monetized or leveraged at a higher value or premium when it comes to advertising.”

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Twitter advertisers to know if ads seen by real users or bots

The platform has tied up with Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify to ensure that the ads are seen by potential customers

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 27, 2023 11:26 AM   |   1 min read

Twitter

Twitter has decided to team up with ad verification companies Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify to enusre that the ads are being seen by real people and not bots, media networks have reported.  

IAS officials were quoted as saying that the move was intended at giving marketers the "confidence to continue to invest in Twitter".

In another move to lure advertisers, Twitter had said end of last year that it would soon bring new controls to allow advertisers to prevent their ads from appearing above or below tweets with certain keywords.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk recently said that Twitter higher-priced subscription models will be completely free of ads.

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Recognition as a separate industry & more: All that creator economy wants from Budget 2023

Well-defined guidelines and relaxations in TDS for micro-influencers are some of the other demands of the industry

By Shantanu David | Jan 27, 2023 8:32 AM   |   5 min read

Aaj Tak becomes world's first news channel to cross 50 million subs on YouTube

The record-breaking milestone comes just three years after the channel crossed 10 million subscribers on the platform

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 25, 2023 9:50 PM   |   2 min read

aaj tak

Earlier this year, Aaj Tak became the first news channel globally to cross 50 million subscribers. Ms. Kalli Purie, Vice Chairperson, India Today Group, met Mr. Gautam Anand, Managing Director of APAC - YouTube, in Singapore to commemorate the special achievement. 
 
“Thank you so much, YouTube! This is just amazing. The team is already planning its way to 100 million so YouTube had better start designing the next button,” Ms Purie quipped to Mr Anand. “Trust has always been the foundation for audience engagement at AajTak. It’s no different with our YouTube channel, but on a much wider scale with hundreds of videos getting uploaded every day. We place equal emphasis on having new audiences discover our channel while ensuring loyal viewers revisit, and invest in figuring out what works on YouTube – whether this is a nuanced understanding of thumbnails or producing hero content frequently.” 
 
Aaj Tak started its digital journey by launching its YouTube channel in the year 2009, and started streaming news live on YouTube for the first time in 2017. The massive popularity gained by the channel subsequently led to its Diamond play button from YouTube in 2019 for crossing 10 million subscribers. Now, just three years later, Aaj Tak is the first news channel to reach 50 million subscribers on YouTube. 
 
“Constant experimentation with new formats like Shorts and investment into our Community page has really paid off, and consistently breaking stories has helped create a very loyal fanbase,” explained Ms. Purie. “Events like the Presidential Elections of 2022, Solar Eclipse and the Cricket World Cup just kept encouraging us to do better and better.”
 
YouTube has been at the forefront of India's mobile revolution, by powering the content and creator ecosystem and by propelling the massive upsurge of video streaming in the world's largest democracy. AajTak has also fast evolved its offering to meet new consumer needs, with the introduction of Shorts, and other constantly emerging insights on LIVE Streams. The channel now has a universe of committed audiences across TV, web, app and social platforms through compelling storytelling that’s tailored to individual platforms.
 

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'India will be one of the most powerful start-up ecosystems in the world'

A panel discussion at the e4m DNPA Digital Media Conference 2023 deliberated on 'Challenges before start-ups in the current digital ecosystem'

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 25, 2023 5:16 PM   |   4 min read

dnpa

India boasts one of the largest start-up ecosystems, enabling the dream of the country becoming a several-million-dollar economy. However, despite government measures to boost the start-ups – in terms of investments and profitability – there are challenges.

The topic of 'Challenges before Start-Ups in current digital ecosystem-Possibilities and Choices' was discussed during a session at the e4m DNPA Digital Media Conference 2023. The panel comprised Ajay Data, MD, Data Group of Industries; Murugavel Janakiraman, CEO, Bharat Matrimony; Ritesh Malik, Director, ADIF & Founder- Plaksha University; Rohan Verma, CEO and Executive Director, Map My India. The session was chaired by Ruhail Amin, Senior Editor, Businessworld & exchange4media.

Speaking about the challenges facing start-ups, Verma said, “Honestly, I think it is very clear that the entrepreneurial talent in India, especially in the digital space, is extremely high. I see no lack of capability. As we have said multiple times, the key challenge has been there because of monopolistic activities that have been suppressing the Indian digital ecosystem. That is the key challenge of our times and I'm pleased that some things are changing with regard to that. 

Malik presented his observations about the challenges that have cropped up in the last few years in the start-up ecosystem: “It took 125 years for Silicon Valley to become what it is. In India, we are leap-frogging the technology era. I think we are going to be one of the most intensely powerful start-up ecosystems and technology ecosystems.

Citing the success of the UPI system in India, he added: "Our mobile payment infrastructure is way ahead of developed nations. Just think of what we will do with the entire Ayushman Bharat digital health mission. We will be one of the most technology-savvy citizen programmes in the world. So the good part is, for the first time, the government is focussing. I think we are standing on a large opportunity. Having said that, technology regulation is important. Unfortunately, it is always falling behind the actual technological innovation. In my opinion, we need to develop a special ministry whose job would be to ensure that another East India Company does not happen again and that Indians are not to be taken for a ride and that our data remains ours; that we are not just a large digital democracy for other large monopoly companies to come, use, generate revenue but also to make sure that our MSME does not get squeezed.”

Singla noted, “Even while we are sitting here, we talk about start-up and start-up ecosystem, but Amar Ujala is a hyper-local newspaper and has a presence in Tier II and Tier III cities. There, education and awareness are still required. From a media perspective, there is a good amount of innovation that is still seen as a challenge. I would say that there is a lot of room for identifying the right business sustainability model.”

Speaking on the broader challenges that need to be addressed in the start-up ecosystem, Data said, “It is extremely important that all entities work together to ensure – whether it is mentoring or education or incubation centres or investments or subsidies or government support – that the frictions between things have to be reduced. And the knowledge about the availability of those resources has to be made very simpler and easy.”

Janakiraman, who joined virtually, spoke from a sectoral standpoint and touched upon the issues that need to be overcome to render a robust start-up ecosystem. He said, “Digital start-ups can significantly contribute to country growth. Today, Indian start-ups are not only limiting themselves to country boundaries but looking at global opportunities. The Internet, 15 years ago, was free and open. Anybody could set up an Internet business or a dotcom; Internet was not controlled by any organisation. Today, the shift has happened, we all know that. The majority of the traffic is happening through mobile apps. So, more than 90 per cent of the traffic happens through the two dominant players – Google and Apple. What are the implications? Today, they are not simply platform providers or access providers; today, they are the platforms as well as players. The challenge is that when the platform becomes a player, their interest changes. Because they are commercial entities and their primary objective is to make money. And because they are both platform and player, they start abusing dominance and that is not good for Indian start-ups nor Indian consumers.”

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Experts discuss competition laws governing digital media in India

At e4m-DNPA Future of Digital Media conference 2023, media industry leaders deliberate on topic, competition laws governing digital media- need for review

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 25, 2023 3:44 PM   |   4 min read

DNPA panel

At e4m-DNPA Future of Digital Media conference, industry experts came together for a panel discussion on ‘competition laws governing digital media- need for review’. The discussion was chaired by Dhanendra Kumar, former chairman of Competition Commission of India. The panelists were Karan Singh Chandhiok- Practice Head-Competition Law- Chandhiok and Mahajan; Pawan Duggal- Head- Pawan Duggal Associates; Parthasarthi Jha; Economic law practice; Avaantika Kakkar, Partner-Competition - Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas; Vaibhav Kakkar, Partner- Saraf and Partners; Abir Roy- co-founder- Sarvada legal, Anil Malhotra, Head- Public & Regulatory Affairs, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited. 

Kumar opened the discussion briefing the audience about the competition laws governing digital media in India and how they were help in accelerating the country’s economic growth.

Anil Malhotra joined the conversation, “Certain perspectives change when we move from linear to digital media, and we are governed by certain regulations in linear which are not duplicated in the digital domain. The organised media player expects a fair and transparent revenue share because the organised media invest a lot in people, infrastructure, and building networks.”

Karan Singh Chandhiok added, “We have good laws, but lack enforcement. Law creates a framework that is flexible enough to deal with eventualities. Besides looking at the competition laws, we should look at a broad picture that includes more information. From a business perspective, the three things to keep in mind while catching up and implementing laws are: predictability and certainty in enforcement, regulatory dialogue and unintended consequences of both legislations and enforcement.”

Abir Roy mentioned, “The biggest challenge is the enforcement of a particular law. Enforcement needs to be certain and the regulator needs to be more dynamic.

Joining the discussion, Avaantika Kakkar shared her views on digital media. “When the pandemic began and we did not get newspapers, we started reading content online. We evolved much during the pandemic and we witnessed the scenario of subscription-based news platforms. Digital players are creating opportunities, which result in access which was never explored before.”

On the legal system, she said, “We have a robust legal system, IP laws, and data protection laws, some laws are evolving, and amendments are being introduced. 

Kumar then asked Parthasarthi Jha to share how digital media is evolving and how the internet has obliterated geographical borders. On laws, Parthasarthi said, “the new law must be fabricated and addressed in a manner that must contain some base work.”

Pawal Duggal opined that internet has transformed human beings into data entities. “We all have become global authors, global transmitters, and global broadcasters of data, and in scenarios like such, we have to keep aside the traditional perceptions of media and should start looking at things from the digital media point of view,” he said.

Duggal said that chatgpt which has completely changed the landscape of digital media. “It is a revolutionary kind of algorithm that has shaken the entire world and which is probably going to impact the content being prepared by media organisations as it is going to be more AI-based.”

Talking about competition laws Vaibhav mentioned the mendment introduced by MIB recently on fake news
that talks about giving Press Information Bureau the responsibility to declare what is fake news. He said, “We need independent arbitrators to decide more on free speech.”

He also mentioned that India should not always copy the West while framing and implementing legislation. “India is a completely different country in terms of population count and other things. India needs evidence based laws and not perceptions-based laws,” he opined.

As concluding remarks, Dhanendra requested all the panellists to sum up pointers of the conversation. The key pointers were: sanitise publishers operating out from India to clear the ground for Indian digital players in fair revenue share; study the laws before enforcing to avoid adverse repercussions; law should be evidence-based and it should ensure fairness and reasonability among the market participants; the idea of fairness is more pervasive, it’s not limited to internet and digital media and it is important for marketers to be flexible to get the fair share in the business; the law should be fair and competition law is not the socialisation of private property; India require a dedicated law on digital media; India need to think carefully at the regulations.

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US sues Google, new lawsuit aims to break up tech giant's ad unit

Google contended that the lawsuit by the US DoJ would reverse years of innovation and harm the broader ad sector

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 25, 2023 7:57 AM   |   1 min read

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Big Tech major Google has been sued by the United States Department of Justice for the second time over anti-competitive practices. This is the US DoJ's second antitrust lawsuit against the tech giant.

Google has been accused of dominating the digital ad market, according to people privy to the matter. The lawsuit will aim to dismantle the tech giant's ad-tech department over its monopoly in the digital ad space.

Reports say that the case will be filed in the federal court before the end of the week.

DoJ chief Jonathan Kanter reportedly said in a press conference that the lawsuit aims to hold Google to account for its "longstanding monopolies in digital advertising technologies that content creators use to sell ads and advertisers use to buy ads."

Google retorted by saying that the lawsuit by DoJ " attempts to pick winners and losers in the highly competitive advertising technology sector."

The tech giant doubled down by stating that the lawsuit is an attempt to "rewrite history at the expense of publishers, advertisers and internet users."

Google also highlighted the ad businesses and practices of its competitors Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, TikTok, Comcast and Disney but the government chose not to go after them.

The tech company is also accused of antitrust practices in India where the Competition Commission of India has slapped heavy penalties against it for abusing its dominance in the Android ecosystem.

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