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NEVER Read the Comments!

The Federal Court this week delivered their judgement on Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Service Seeking Pty Ltd [2020] FCA 1040 going all out by handing out whopping fines, legal costs orders and ordering Service Seeking Pty Ltd to establish a, undoubtedly expensive, compliance system to be monitored by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). 


What did they do that was so bad? 

According to the Federal Court of Australia, they created a system in which businesses could write their own customer reviews. 

With a rating system less defined than what constitutes a 5-star rating in an Uber trip, businesses could write a review, assign a star rating and send it off to their customer for approval. If the customer didn’t respond or even open the email containing the review, then the review was automatically published online after a set period. By estimates of the Court, approximately 80% of the reviews published on the website for the period that this scheme was in place were written via this method. 

The parties agreed that by publishing the reviews on the website, Service Seeking was making a false or misleading representation themselves as well as the businesses that published them. Therefore, they were culpable for allowing these reviews to exist on their platform as well as playing a role in the creation of the reviews as well. 

Regulatory Perspective

From a regulatory perspective, this ruling is less than surprising and is reflective of the age that we are living in with respect to online commentary. There are more and more cases every year for defamation regarding online reviews and the push to de-anonymise the internet has arisen with these. If everyone is to be responsible for what they say online, any comment which is even inferred to be from a person will need to have that person’s consent. That way, a person remains responsible for what they post and the website owes a duty to help identify that person.

This was proven in Kabbabe v Google LLC [2020] FCA 126, where Google was ordered to provide the user information of someone who had left a false negative review of a dental surgeon. A recent South Australian case, Cheng v Lok [2020] SASC 14 awarded a lawyer $750,000 in damages for a fake review.

It may even be extended to holding the group admins on Facebook pages responsible for the defamatory posts of members of the group. 

Both of the above cases highlight the uncompromising nature that the courts are taking with respect to online commentary which is, you are responsible for the content that you post online and if that content is false or misleading or defamatory, then you are responsible for that as well. 

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