Damage to reputation vs. freedom of opinion – what to do about bad reviews on the internet?

Reviews from other customers and product owners often play an important role in the way potential customers make purchasing decisions, especially in online shopping. Reviews are often both a blessing and a curse for companies. On the one hand, a product or service can be better sold if the overall review is high and many good five-star reviews are given. On the other hand, many fake reviews, negative one-star reviews by competitors, aggressive reviews, abuse and insults and reviews based on untrue information are also doing the rounds on the Internet with false statements that give many an entrepreneur sleepless nights and have a negative impact on sales and competitiveness.

As a rule, review platforms are provided to disclose information about experiences with the evaluated products or services. Whether reviews are covered by the fundamental right to freedom of expression and freedom of information and may be published or are unlawful depends primarily on the content of the review. Untruthful facts or libel towards employees of a company may not be included in reviews, for example.

If a company receives an unlawful review, there is the possibility of initiating legal action against the person who has written or published the review and/or against the operator of the review platform.

In the past, entrepreneurs have also increasingly taken successful legal action against illegal reviews, which were published on review platforms such as Google and Jameda, and were able to achieve, among other things, the deletion of the illegal reviews.

Is the purchase of positive fake reviews permitted?

In the provisions of the Directive (EU) 2019/2161 (= Omnibus Directive), which has been adopted by the EU and is to be applied in the Member States no later than May 2022, specify, among other things, that falsified customer reviews that were initiated by the entrepreneur himself (= purchase of fake reviews) constitute a blacklist contravention of competition law. In the event of a contravention, there is a risk of high fines of up to 4% of the annual turnover or EUR 2 million, warnings and legal actions.

The purchase of fake reviews will therefore become expensive for companies (in the future) and must now be refrained from in most member states of the EU as well as in China and in all other EU member states by May 2022 at the latest.