A website that links tradespeople to consumers has been ordered to pay $600,000 for pretending reviews were by customers, when they had actually been written by the businesses themselves.
Service Seeking’s “Fast Feedback” feature allowed businesses to use a template to draft their own reviews and choose a star rating for their service after completing a job.
The review was then emailed to customers but if they didn’t respond within three days, it was automatically published under the tradesperson’s profile.
Of about 21,000 reviews between July 2016 and November 2018, around 80 per cent went online without customer input.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission instituted proceedings against Service Seeking in the Federal Court in December 2018 and the penalties were handed down on Wednesday after the platform admitted making false or misleading representations.
In his judgment, Justice Darren Jackson described the course of conduct as systematic.
“This was an abuse of the trust that customers can be inferred to have placed in the site, the existence of which can be inferred from the number of active customers who posted one or more jobs.”
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said consumers were increasingly relying on online reviews to make informed purchasing decisions.
“Deceiving them about the authenticity of the reviews in my view is showing contempt for consumers,” Ms Rickard said.
The court also made orders for injunctions, corrective notices and the implementation of a compliance program.