The world today thrives on online purchases and recommendations. Most of us have relied upon or submitted online reviews for a product we have purchased, food we have consumed or even a service we have availed at some point or the other. From a service provider or seller’s perspective, there are several monetary incentives attached to such online reviews and ratings. Service sectors that get the most online reviews are food delivery services, restaurants, hotels, home cleaning or repair works and the likes. In case of products, there aren’t many that are indifferent to online reviews.
It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that these reviews have the power to determine consumer behaviour. What lies at the core of these online reviews is the consumer, either as a writer of the reviews or as a consumer. Given the widespread reach of these online reviews, a need was felt to keep the whole process more ‘authentic’ and accurate, both by the consumers and the service providers/ sellers. Instances of false positive or negative reviews, penalising consumers for negative/ honest reviews, removal of negative reviews and promotion of positive reviews by organisations, etc., made the Bureau of Indian Standards (“BIS”) come up with the Indian Standards (“IS”) 19000:2022 titled “Online Consumer Reviews – Principles and Requirements for their Collection, Moderation and Publication” (“Standards”) in November 2022. The Standards aim to streamline and regulate the publication of online reviews by laying down requirements and recommendations to be applied by a designated personnel, i.e., the review administrator, as appointed by any organisation to collect, moderate and publish any online consumer review. These Standards are currently advisory in nature.
This blog briefly captures the key takeaways of the Standards along with its potential industrial implications.
Two parties have been identified in the Standards: (a) Review Administrator – an organisation or individual responsible for managing the review content; and (b) Review Author – consumer writing a review.The Standards state that all organisations engaged in the publication of online reviews should have a Review Administrator responsible for implementing the Standards. Currently, the Standards do not shed much light on the qualifications that a person or organization should possess in order to be designated as Review Administrator. The Standards also envisage the Review Author registering with the said organisation, and accepting a set of terms and conditions (“T&C”) post which reviews may be submitted. Some of the key features of the Standards are:
- Transparent Review Collection Process – All consumer reviews must be collected using an objective process. Certain particulars like the email address or telephone number of the Review Author have to be provided, along with the review; and the Review Administrator has to collect all the reviews, including solicited reviews, through a demonstrable process.
- Minimising Biased and Fraudulent Reviews – The Review Administrator must verify the identity of the Review Author and ensure that reviews that are purchased by the entity, and are therefore likely to be fraudulent or fake, are not published.
Fraudulent reviews have been plaguing the consumer industry for long. In Livspace Pte. Ltd. & Anr. v. Livspace-Reviews.com & Ors.,the Delhi High Court acknowledged the perils of fake reviews, especially owing to the anonymity of the authors of the review. The Standards, by emphasising on verifying the identity of the Review Author, seek to eliminate any issues which may arise owing to anonymity.
- Moderating review content – The Standards state that the moderation process followed should be outlined in the T&C provided for by the organisation itself and also lay down the procedure for identifying whether the review content is problematic and removal of the same in turn. Multiple aspects in the Standards are subjective and depend on the level of commitment and involvement shown by the organisations and consumers.
Additionally, every review which is posted must contain the date of submission and rating (value, classification or ranking of a product or service given by a consumer).
- Publication of the review – The Review Administrator’s actions ought to be transparent as per the Standards, wherein the review content should be published accurately with proper indications of any edits or translations so made. The Standards also suggest Review Authors’ providing a general rating against each product or service reviewed. The Review Administrator can then combine these ratings and convert them into an overall rating to make comparison easier.
- Increased interaction between stakeholders – The Standards envisage increased participation by both consumers and organisations in the review publication process. The same is brought to the fore by stating that Review Administrators should allow all consumers to flag any review which appears to include problematic content, contains defamatory content or is in contravention to the initial T&C. The said process leaves room for subjectivity owing to consumer preferences not being premised on any set guidelines.
A Comparative Study: India & the EU
In 2019, the European Union issued Directive 2019/2961 of the European Parliament and European Council (“Directive”) to regulate online reviews. The Directive suggested developing technical means to assess the reliability of a consumer posting a review, including a mechanism to verify whether the said consumer had actually used or purchased the said product or service. It also suggested curbing fake endorsements to promote products by seeking to prohibit traders from submitting or commissioning others to submit such reviews and also regulating extrapolations of social endorsements wherein a user’s positive interaction with certain online content creates an appearance that the user has taken a positive stance on related content.
Currently, the E-Commerce Rules 2020, promulgated under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, place an obligation on sellers in e-commerce marketplaces to not engage in any unfair trade practice and not represent themselves as consumers and post reviews that may potentially misrepresent the quality or features of any of their products or services. The same obligation has been placed on inventory-based e-commerce entities as well.
The Standards also recommend categorising the role of submitting reviews, both from a consumer’s and receiving organisation’s perspective. It also mentions that Review Authors can submit their reviews without any qualifications, while also putting forth a mechanism for analysing whether the Review Author is a real person by assessing the frequency of writing reviews and by examining the language used in the review. The Standards suggest that the same can be done through a system combining automated tools and manual verification processes.
Potential Industry Impact
The Standards, if made mandatory, would make notable difference to all players – sellers and buyers. Currently, the Standards fail to mention anything regarding qualifications of a Review Administrator, but it specifies that a third-party organization can act as the same. Therefore, the role of a Review Administrator would depend on the sector and at times oscillate between an internal ombudsman and an external compliance official. For example, in the food delivery sector, an online review would be qualified basis two entities, being the delivery agency and the food outlet. The Review Administrator would be an external official to at least one of the two entities but would also exercise supervision over a review concerning both parties. This will create an overlap regarding provisions of goods and services and, to that extent the role of the Review Author becomes crucial as they will need to be mindful of the different entities while submitting the review. This would have to be assessed by all relevant organisations that undertake online sales, and thus rely heavily on online reviews.
Further, such verification, which includes through email, telephone call, registration by clicking on a link, would lead to concerns regarding data privacy. Some verification processes may require sharing of sensitive information such as passwords, which would in turn, trigger the obligations under the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011. Although the Standards do contain provisions for protecting all consumer data used for verification, the same may be subject to contestation by multiple stakeholders. Therefore, specific reasons for collecting particular consumer data will have to be mentioned in the initial T&C itself by all concerned organisations.
Lastly, as per the Standards, review content (as suggested to be included in the initial T&C) must be limited to personal consumer experience with a product or service, along with being accurate and not contain any defamatory language. As the nature of the product or service would vary vastly depending on the sector, the T&C set by an organisation would need to be looked into from an industry specific lens to ensure all essential ingredients are included therein. A templatised set of T&C would not be universally viable.
The advisory Standard is a well intentioned first step. However, it will need more robust and objective provisions as and when it is made mandatory or when more organisations voluntarily start adopting the Standards, whichever is earlier.
 Bureau of Indian Standards, Department of Consumer Affairs, Gazette Notification Ref. HQ-PUB013/1/2020-PUB-BIS (451), dated November 23rd, 2022, available at – https://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2022/240551.pdf.
 Established as the national standards body of India by the BIS Act, 2016 (“Act”) under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution
 Rule 15 of Bureau of Indian Standards Rules, 2018, available at – https://www.bis.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/BIS-Rules-2018_amendments_Sep_15102020.pdf (Accessed: May 08, 2023):
15. Establishment of Indian Standards. —
(1) The Bureau shall establish Indian Standards in relation to any goods, article, process, system or service and shall reaffirm, amend, revise or withdraw Indian Standards so established as may be necessary, by a process of consultation with stakeholders who may include representatives of various interests such as consumers, regulatory and other Government bodies, industry, testing laboratories or calibration laboratories, scientists, technologists, and members of the Committees of the Bureau:
Provided that where a standard is being established on the request of the Central Government or the regulator, which is emerging from or has an impact on national policy, the Central Government or the concerned regulator shall be consulted to ensure that the standard is consistent with such policy:
Provided further that any Indian Standard established by the erstwhile Indian Standards Institution and the Bureau of Indian Standards established under Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986 (63 of 1986) before the date of commencement of the Act or the rules or regulations made thereunder, shall be deemed to have been established under the provisions of the Act or under these rules or regulations made under Section 39 of the Act.
(2) All Indian Standards, their revisions, amendments and withdrawal shall be established by notification in the Official Gazette.
 Paragraph 3.13 & 3.14, Standards.
 Paragraph 4.1, Standards.
 Paragraph 4.1 & 3.13, Standards.
 Paragraph 4.1 (e), Standards.
 Paragraph 5.2, Standards.
 Paragraph 188.8.131.52. & Paragraph 5.6.1, Standards.
 Livespace Pte Ltd. & Anr. v. Livspace-Reviews.com & Ors. (Delhi High Court) CS (COMM) 595/2022.
 Paragraph 6, Standards.
 Paragraph 7.1, Standards.
 Paragraph 7.1 (a), Standards.
 Paragraph 184.108.40.206. & Paragraph 6.5.2, Standards.
 Paragraph 47, Directive.
 Paragraph 49, Directive.
 Rule 6(2), E-Commerce Rules, 2020.
 Rule 7(2), E-Commerce Rules, 2020.
 Rule 3, Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011.