ACCC internet sweeps target 'greenwashing', fake online reviews

4 October 2022

The ACCC has today launched two internet sweeps to identify misleading environmental and sustainability marketing claims and fake or misleading online business reviews.

The sweeps are being conducted over the coming weeks as part of the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities for 2022-23, with the broad aim of identifying deceptive advertising and marketing practices by businesses or industries.

At least 200 company websites will be reviewed in the sweep for misleading environmental claims across a range of targeted sectors including energy, vehicles, household products and appliances, food and drink packaging, cosmetics, clothing and footwear.

“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,” Ms Rickard said.

At the same time, the ACCC will conduct a separate internet sweep targeting fake or misleading online reviews and testimonials. This will be the first of a series of smaller-scale sweeps focusing on deceptive practices in the digital marketplace. The sweep will target misleading reviews posted to business’ websites, Facebook pages and third-party review platforms. Misleading advertising by influencers on social media will be considered in a second sweep, which will focus on identifying posts that fail to clearly disclose advertising or sponsorship.

“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,” Ms Rickard said.

“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.”

At least 100 businesses will be reviewed in this initial sweep, targeting areas in which consumers most commonly rely on reviews including household appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty products, food and restaurants, travel services, sport, home improvement, kitchenware, health products, as well as furniture and bedding.

“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,” Ms Rickard said.

“The sweeps will be followed up with compliance, education and potential enforcement activities and we also want to improve awareness to enable consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions.”

“Well-functioning online markets are key to the modern economy. To realise the full benefit, consumers need confidence to engage with online businesses,” Ms Rickard said.

The ACCC will publish the findings of the sweeps once they are collated and analysed.

Background

Each year, the ACCC announces a list of Compliance and Enforcement priorities. These priorities outline the areas of focus for the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement activities for the following year. As part of the 2022-23

Compliance and Enforcement Priorities, the ACCC is prioritising both consumer and fair-trading issues in relation to environmental and sustainability claims as well as issues relating to manipulative or deceptive advertising and marketing practices in the digital economy.

Release number: 
141/22
ACCC Infocentre: 

Use this form to make a general enquiry.

Media enquiries: 
Media Team - 1300 138 917, media@accc.gov.au