Purchased fake reviews on the Internet are unlawful, the Munich district court decided on Thursday. The verdict has signal character: The judges gave a complaint of the travel portal Holidaycheck, which fights against fictitious customer reviews, which had sold a company from South America to several hoteliers.
In the future, Fivestar, a company based in the tiny state of Belize, will no longer be able to sell valuations from people who have not actually stayed at the hotel or holiday home in question. And that's not all: The company must ensure that the previous fake reviews are deleted – and that the holiday portal, which belongs to the media group Burda, provides information about who invented the fictitious reviews.
The target group of Fivestar are companies that want to improve their sales through positive reviews. “Through Fivestar you get high-quality reviews of your products, your services or your shop,” advertises Fivestar on its own website. Purchased Amazon reviews are priced at 19.40, the most expensive, but reviews can also buy for Google, Facebook or employer review portals – cheaper in the package. Fivestar has in the past advertised that top scores are being sold, but has since removed this clue.
Fivestar's activities have also caught the attention of other online corporations. The US company Amazon is also very keen to put a stop to fake reviews. In Germany, Amazon obtained a dozen court decisions against companies selling valuations, a spokesperson said on request. “Among other things, we have obtained two injunctions against Fivestar Marketing, one of which has already been confirmed by a final judgment.”
Fivestar does not use computer computers, but hires freelancers
Fivestar's business practice differs from other valuation firms that rely on automated procedures for fake reviews on the Internet. “According to our estimates, more than 90 percent of non-authentic reviews are computer-generated,” said the Amazon spokesman. “We work with review teams and automated systems to prevent spurious reviews, detect them, and take action against the operators of this abuse.” In contrast, Fivestar does not use computer computers, but hires freelancers.
In the current Munich case, the County Court Fivestar does not generally prohibit reviews on Holidaycheck for sale – are banned, however, reviews of Fivestar reviewers, “who have never seen the hotel from the outside, let alone from inside,” as the Chairman Judge Gawinski formulated.
The decision was made as a default judgment. Despite the charge, no representative of Fivestar had appeared for trial. The company has recently renamed itself and changed the legal form from Fivestar Marketing UG to Fivestar AG bR, as the judge recounted. The old managing director is no longer managing director, a new one is not registered in the commercial register. But that will not help Fivestar escape the claims of Holidaycheck. “It's like a sex change,” Gawinski said of the new legal form. “That does not mean it will not hit the company anymore.”
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