More and more consumers look for opinions about a given product on the Internet before buying it. Meanwhile, a significant proportion of the entries that can be found on the web are false. Astroturf marketing, i.e. buying flattering opinions, is a growing problem also in Poland. The law allows to punish those who pay for positive comments. The penalty can reach up to 10% of the turnover of the year preceding the year of the decision. However, experts claim that proving such an act is difficult.

- Astroturfing, i.e. buying flattering opinions, is a phenomenon more and more frequently encountered on the Polish market. The Internet is full of offers from various entrepreneurs who want to provide their services in this way. Such an action may be qualified as an unfair market practice. It results directly from the provisions of the Act on Counteracting Unfair Market Practices,' Joanna Affre, advocate and managing partner in the law firm Affre i Wspólnicy, emphasizes in an interview with Newseria Biznes news agency.

Astroturfing, i.e. the location of artificial grass in English, consists in conducting campaigns which pretend to be the opinions of ordinary consumers. More and more companies and agencies, also in Poland, offer to entrepreneurs who introduce a product to the market or want to improve its perception, creating a positive climate around the product or service. According to some researchers, the problem is large and even several dozen percent of all opinions on the web are false.

- Impersonating yourself as a consumer when you are not one, and writing comments under products or services, thus spreading flattering or unflattering comments about your competitors by traders always misleads consumers. They obtain false information and create a false impression of the authenticity of the phenomenon. This can be qualified as an unfair market practice. Then the President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection may enter the game - explains Joanna Affre.

Paid opinions on the Internet

Under the provisions of the Act on Counteracting Unfair Market Practices and the Act on Competition and Consumer Protection, the President of the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection has the right to fight against such action. Both agencies that offer such activities and entrepreneurs who buy them are subject to penalties.

- If the President of the office considers that such actions constitute an infringement, he may initiate proceedings and impose penalties of up to 10% of the turnover of the year preceding the year of the decision. These may also be soft actions, i.e. asking entrepreneurs to stop such actions and thus terminate the proceedings - says the attorney.

However, in many situations companies are unpunished, mainly due to the difficulty of proving such an act to them. The institution of a mysterious client, often used e.g. in the West, may prove helpful. In the United States, in one of the cases the prosecutor impersonated an entrepreneur who wants to buy positive comments, obtained offers and with them also evidence.

- The President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection could also use the institution of a mysterious customer to gather evidence in such proceedings. He would also have a lot of work to do when browsing Polish websites - emphasises Joanna Affre. - Certainly, actions taken by dishonest entrepreneurs distort consumers' decisions about purchasing products or services in a very important way.

This is all the more so because more and more customers first read the opinions about them that are posted by internet users before buying a product or using the services of a given company.