ACCC cracks down on greenwashing, fake online reviews

ACCC cracks down on greenwashing, fake online reviews

The nation’s consumer watchdog is cracking down on businesses making misleading environmental claims and fake online reviews by launching two internet sweeps to identify companies acting in bad faith.

Over the coming weeks, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will analyse at least 200 business websites for misleading environmental claims across a range of sectors like energy, vehicles, household products and appliances, food and drink packaging, cosmetics, clothing and footwear.

At the same time, another internet sweep of at least 100 businesses will target misleading reviews posted on websites, Facebook pages and third-party review platforms. Social media influencers will also be considered in an additional sweep, which will focus on identifying posts that fail to clearly disclose advertising or sponsorship.

“As consumers become increasingly interested in purchasing sustainable products, there are growing concerns that some businesses are falsely promoting their environmental or green credentials. Misleading claims about products or services undermine consumer trust and confidence in the market,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

“This sweep forms a core part of our work in actively monitoring for ‘greenwashing’ in the market and will help inform what steps businesses can take to improve the integrity of their environmental claims.

“In looking at claims we are concerned about what the ordinary consumer will understand the claim to mean. The ACCC won’t hesitate to take enforcement action where we see that consumers are being misled or deceived by green claims.”

When looking into deceptive practices in the digital marketplace, the ACCC will target areas consumers most commonly rely on reviews such as household appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty products, food and restaurants, travel services, sport, home improvement, kitchenware, health products, as well as furniture and bedding.

“Unfortunately, consumers are facing an ever-increasing range of manipulative marketing techniques designed to exploit or pressure them, due in part to the huge number of online information sources available. Consumers often rely on reviews and testimonials when making purchases, but misleading reviews can be harmful,” Rickard said.

“We are looking to identify businesses, review platforms or sectors where there is a pattern of misleading online reviews and testimonials that have the potential to cause significant consumer or small business harm. Both positive and negative reviews and testimonials – including those that are incentivised – can be false or misleading, particularly if they are presented as impartial but are not.

“Businesses can also be significantly impacted, particularly by negative reviews at the hands of competitors or third-party professional reviewers acting on behalf of a business. Review manipulation of any kind can impact a business’ star or numeric rating, leading to an overall misleading impression of the business.”

The ACCC will publishing the findings of both internet sweeps once they are collated and analysed.

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