Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Manipulation of User Created Contents

The user created contents are, especially in the context of reviews or comments of products or services, becoming more and more important. Before deciding which restaurant to go to, we check Yelp reviews and may also google the name of the restaurant to find user reviews on the restaurants. Many people seem to feel that user created contents are more reliable than the advertisements that companies create.

However, that is not always true. One of the most famous American examples of this sort is the Amazon paid review scandal where some review writers seemed to have received money for positive reviews.

Similar manipulation of a user created contents scandal happened twice last year. Around the beginning of the year, one famous review site for restaurants similar to Yelp called "Taberogu" was attacked by the mass media because more than thirty entrepreneurs offered to make up a positive review in Taberogu for restaurants and get paid in return. Japanese mass media called this technique "stealth marketing" (named after stealth aircraft).

Also, some famous entertainers in the Japanese show-biz world recommended an auction service on their blog, saying they could successfully bid for precious goods at a surprisingly low price. It would not have been problematic if they had actually successfully bid for the goods, but at the end of the year, it was revealed that they never engaged in bidding and just posted a fake picture of the auction site about winning the bid and received a lot of money in return. These stealth marketing scandals cast doubt on the assumption that user created contents are more reliable than company ads.

According to the amended guidelines by the Consumer Affairs Agency on the Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations on B to C advertisement online, a substantial manipulation of the ranking by paying for positive reviews is likely to be a "fraudulent representation" prohibited by the Act. Also, it is likely that advertising through blogs by the auction site stating that people can buy things cheaply when they actually cannot would also constitute a fraudulent representation. But this is a matter of where to draw the line. It is difficult to say that all paid reviews are a "fraudulent representation." One example that is unlikely to be a "fraudulent representation" is if users are asked to upload a review of whatever contents (irrespective of positive, neutral, or negative) and promise to give them a discount in return. Where we should draw the line? This is a difficult issue to be 
clarified by the accumulation of court opinions.

DISCLAIMER: "IT Law issues in Japan" only provides general information about Japanese information technology law and does not, under any circumstances, constitute legal advice. You should first obtain the advice of professional legal counsel who is qualified in Japan before acting or refraining from acting based on this blog.

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