GUIDELINE ON CONSUMER ASSESSMENTS
 
 
 
Introduction
 
At the meeting of the Advertisement Board (“Board”) under the Ministry of Trade (“Ministry”) dated 12.09.2023 and numbered 337, the Guideline on Consumer Evaluations (“Guideline”) prepared by the Board was adopted and published. It is stated that the preparation of the Guideline was influenced by the fact that the Board examined 1,527 files in the first nine months of 2023 and imposed a total administrative fine of TRY 64,141,381 for 1,346 files together with a suspension penalty and access blocking decisions for 38 files.
 
The Guideline aims to provide guidance to advertisers, advertising agencies, media organisations and all persons, institutions and organisations related to advertising regarding the basic principles, information, control processes, situations deemed deceptive and obligations regarding consumer evaluations.
 
Consumer Assessment Concept and Guideline Scope
 
The fact that the Guideline, which is prepared based on the Law on Consumer Protection (“Law”) and the Regulation on Commercial Advertisements and Unfair Commercial Practices (“Regulation”), includes the definition of “consumer reviews” in detail shows that it serves the purpose of regulation. In this context, consumer reviews refer to the expressions, approvals and rating practices indicating all kinds of consumer experiences made by consumers on the internet regarding a purchased good or service or a seller or provider or intermediary service provider. Therefore, as stated in Article 5/3 of the Guidelines, rating practices such as comments written, points or stars given regarding the purchased goods or services are also within the scope of consumer evaluations. In addition, consumer evaluations, which are also addressed in Article 5/1 of the Guidelines, are defined as evaluations directly related to the quality, ease of use, promotion, sale or supply, including the production processes, of a good or service offered to consumers by the seller, provider or intermediary service provider.
 
In addition, the scope of the Guideline includes consumer evaluations made on the internet regarding the goods or services offered by sellers and providers or intermediary service providers and their ancillary contracts such as delivery, credit, insurance services, as well as evaluations published on complaint platforms whose main activity is to enable the publication of consumer complaints regarding a good or service or the sellers or providers of that good or service on the internet. For example, in addition to the evaluations made about a good or service purchased from the seller “B” operating on the platform of an intermediary service provider named “A”, such as “The colour of the shirt is as it appears in the image.”, “The shirt is not comfortable and useful.”; “B packaged the product sloppy.” etc. “B” seller of the purchased good, evaluations of ancillary contracts such as “I received it within a day.”, “It arrived undamaged and fast.” and evaluations of the intermediary service provider named “A” such as “A’s cancellation process for this shirt is very complicated.”, “A’s customer representative resolved my request for the faulty product quickly.” are also within the scope.
 
However, consumer evaluations made by natural and legal persons who do not act on behalf of a seller or provider on their own internet environment and which have the nature of providing information about the experience gained regarding a good or service or a seller or provider, and evaluations regarding purchases and applications that are not within the scope of consumer transactions are not included in the scope. For example, reviews on transport, accommodation, food and beverage services on a real person’s own blog page where he/she shares his/her travel-related experiences, or reviews on forums and similar platforms for people to exchange ideas or information on any subject are outside the scope of this Guideline.
 
Guideline Review and Evaluations on Consumer Reviews
 
EDGE CAP
 
 
 
RELEVANT ARTICLE TEXT
 
 
 
EXPLANATIONS & EVALUATIONS
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Basic Principles
 
 
 
 
 
Article 5/4: In the event that it is possible to make evaluations on the internet, these evaluations are only allowed to be made by those who purchase the relevant goods or services. In case of order cancellation, termination of the contract or exercise of the right of withdrawal, evaluations limited to the experiences experienced in the process until the stage of the purchase process are also considered within the scope of purchase.
 
For example, consumer “T” may have exercised his/her right of withdrawal before or after the delivery due to the problem he/she experienced in the delivery of a shirt he/she purchased, and an evaluation limited to his/her experience arising from this situation may be included.
 
 
 
In addition to the provision that evaluations can only be made by the purchasers of the relevant goods or services, which is already stipulated by the Regulation, it is stated up to which stage activities such as comments/points/stars can be carried out by consumers in case of order cancellation, termination of the contract and exercise of the right of withdrawal. In the event that one of these rights is exercised, the evaluations to be made are limited to the experiences that have been realised until the stage of the ongoing purchase process, but the experiences up to that stage will be evaluated within the scope of the purchase.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Article 5/5: Provided that it complies with the provisions of the Regulation and this Guideline, sellers, providers and intermediary service providers may also allow the publication of consumer evaluations in the following cases:
 
a) Sharing consumer evaluations regarding a good or service purchased from the physical store of the seller or provider named “B” on the website or platform of seller or provider “B”.
 
b) Sharing consumer evaluations regarding a good or service purchased from the physical store or website of the seller or provider named “B” based on the agreement between the parties, in the store of the seller named “B” on the platform of the intermediary service provider named “A” or under the evaluations regarding the purchased good.
 
c) Sharing a consumer evaluation published on the website named “X”, where consumers share their experiences by purchasing a good or service, on the platform belonging to the intermediary service provider named “A” or on the website of the seller named “B” in the area where that good or service is offered for sale, directly from the website named “X” and similarly or by specifying or sharing it with a link.
 
ç) Based on the agreement between the parties, sharing the consumer reviews published on the platform of one intermediary service provider on the platform of another intermediary service provider; sharing the consumer reviews published on the website of one seller or provider on the website of another seller or provider.
 
 
 
This article stipulates that consumer evaluations regarding the same goods or services purchased from a physical store, a different platform or a website may be published by the seller, provider and intermediary service providers, provided that they comply with the relevant legislation.
 
In this context, considering the consumer rights that the Law and other legislation aim to protect, it is seen that the relevant provision serves the purpose. As a matter of fact, since consumer evaluations can only be made by the consumers who purchase that good/service, the relevant activities will have positive effects on consumers.
 
At this point, it is useful to mention the burden imposed only on intermediary service providers by Article 6/4 of the Guidelines. Pursuant to the relevant article: ‘Intermediary service providers should indicate that the consumer making the assessment is a consumer who has actually purchased that good or service by expressions such as “… purchased from the seller” or “verified user”‘. Considering that this obligation imposed on intermediary service providers is only for sales made through their own platforms, it seems quite pro-consumer. However, it raises a question mark as to how the control will be ensured in the event that the consumer evaluation is made on another intermediary service provider’s website. As a matter of fact, this issue also applies to the other subparagraphs specified in Article 5/5. For example, in the event that an evaluation is made on the platform of an intermediary service provider regarding the goods or services purchased from the physical store of the seller or provider based on the agreement between them, a strict coordination between the seller and the intermediary service provider should be ensured.
 
 
 
 
Article 5/6: Consumer evaluations shall be published according to an objective criterion such as date, evaluation grade, ranking according to the seller or provider for at least one year without any guidance, without any positive or negative distinction after the necessary examinations are made.  
 
 
 
It is considered as a positive output that this issue, which is already stipulated by the Regulation, is also addressed by the Guideline in order to prevent practices that we frequently encounter especially on website platforms, which allow consumers to be misled by highlighting positive comments without considering the date.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Informing Consumers
 
 
 
Article 6/1: The principles and rules determined by the seller, provider or intermediary service provider for the publication of reviews shall be included in the area where the reviews are published or on the pop-up screen to which consumers are directed by a link or warning sign.
 
Article 6/2: The principles and rules set out in the first paragraph shall not be determined in such a way as to prevent consumers from making evaluations regarding the goods or services or related ancillary agreements, particularly delivery, which are the main factors in the purchase decision, or to ensure that evaluations are made only on certain issues.
 
 
 
 
 
This issue, which has already been stipulated by the Regulation, has been revisited by the Guidelines and the concept of consumer assessments has been expanded as ‘principles and rules determined by sellers, providers and intermediary service providers’ in parallel with its definition.
 
In addition, the relevant issue is exemplified in the Guidelines. In this context; if the consumer purchases goods through the platform of an intermediary service provider and wants to share his/her experience on issues such as authenticity, defective products, etc. regarding the seller or the purchased goods, this evaluation cannot be rejected with a rule determined by the intermediary service provider as “Comments cannot be made regarding missing/defective products, incorrect product shipment, delivery, packaging and product authenticity, which may be qualified as a seller evaluation”. Similarly, a consumer review regarding the delivery of a food order placed by consumers over the internet cannot be rejected on the grounds that it is “independent from the service received from the restaurant”.
 
 
 
 
Article 6/3: Sellers, providers or intermediary service providers must inform consumers in a clear and understandable manner about the processes applied to prove that the published evaluations are made by consumers who purchased that good or service, whether all consumer evaluations are published, how the average evaluation score is calculated and how the evaluations are ranked.
 
 
 
It is seen that a very comprehensive obligation is imposed on sellers, suppliers or intermediary service providers in terms of informing consumers.  The determination of the relevant evaluation criteria will also prevent platforms from announcing only certain comments with deceptive practices in consumer comments.
 
 
 
 
Article 6/5: Even if it is confirmed that the consumer has purchased a good or service, the consumer shall be notified without delay of the reason for non-publication of the reviews containing statements that are not permitted to be published within the framework of the principles and rules determined by the seller, provider or intermediary service providers.
 
Article 6/6: The consumer whose evaluation is rejected on the grounds that it does not comply with the publication principle is given the right to make a re-evaluation by making corrections.
 
 
 
The Guideline provides examples of consumer evaluations that may not be published under Article 6/5 and the actions that may be taken in this case:
 
As a principle for publishing reviews, it may be determined that reviews that “exclude a segment of the society due to belief, race, colour or gender”, “contain threats or swearing” or “are created with randomly selected characters from the keyboard without any meaning” will not be published. In the event that it is detected that an evaluation is intended to be made in violation of these principles, the consumer may be returned as “Since your evaluation is humiliating/exclusionary/threatening/includes profanity, it could not be published in accordance with our comment publishing principles.”.
 
In addition, the Guidelines give consumers the right to re-evaluate by making corrections.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Review Control Process
 
 
 
Article 7/1: The control process to be carried out by sellers, providers or intermediary service providers in relation to the publication of the review shall be reasonable and proportionate so as not to discourage or make it difficult for consumers to make a review.
 
 
 
The control process to be carried out by sellers, providers or intermediary service providers includes the processes of ensuring that consumer evaluations comply with the principles and rules determined by the seller, provider or intermediary service providers, including checking whether the consumer making the evaluation is the consumer who purchased the relevant goods or services. The relevant provision stipulates that the control process should be reasonable and proportionate, without discouraging or making it difficult for the consumer to make an assessment; for example, a travel agency may check the assessment of a consumer who has purchased a service from it by booking number.
 
 
 
 
Article 7/2: Examples of reasonable and proportionate control processes for consumer evaluations include the following practices
 
a) Using technical means, such as checking the IP address or verification by e-mail, to verify that the reviewer is indeed a consumer.
 
b) Establishing clear rules prohibiting assessments that are misleading to assessors or that are covered by confidential advertising agreements.
 
c) Use tools to automatically detect fraudulent activities.
 
d) Take adequate measures and develop resources to respond to complaints about suspicious assessments.
 
 
 
With the relevant provision, the activities that can be implemented in the reasonable and proportionate control process are specified in subparagraphs and the process is further exemplified; the technical infrastructure and personnel capacity to respond quickly and effectively to fraudulent assessments can be developed in order to build trust in published consumer assessments.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Consumer Assessments Deemed to be Misleading
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Article 8/1: Symbols and expressions indicating liking or approval in return for a benefit for the posts made on the social media account of the seller or provider shall be considered misleading consumer evaluations and shall not be published since they will not be honest and objective.
 
Article 8/2: Evaluations for a different seller or provider or for a different good or service than the one purchased are considered misleading and shall not be published.
 
Article 8/3: No action may be taken to increase the visibility of favourable consumer evaluations or to change the objective ranking results of the evaluations in return for a certain benefit to benefit sellers or providers.
 
 
 
Misleading consumer reviews, which may affect the preferences of many consumers, are addressed by the Guidelines and recognised as unfair commercial practices. Accordingly, common misleading consumer practices are specified in subparagraphs under Article 7 of the Guidelines.
 
Paragraph 2 of the Guideline provides an illustration; if it is determined that a consumer who purchases only one drink from a restaurant makes an evaluation such as “The meatball menu was great / The hamburgers were very tasty.”, this evaluation cannot be published.  
 
In the Guideline, it is exemplified with reference to paragraph 3; by real or legal persons who have an agreement with the seller operating on a platform, making positive comments following the purchase of a large number of goods for the sole purpose of making positive comments within the knowledge of the seller and returning the purchased goods within 14 days, which is the legal period after the publication of the comments, will be considered as unfair commercial practice.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Article 8/5: Sellers, suppliers or intermediary service providers should avoid practices that may manipulate consumer evaluations. The following examples of manipulative practices can be given:
 
a) Publishing only positive reviews and not negative ones.
 
b) Providing consumers with a pre-filled positive review template.
 
c) Communicating with consumers during the control process to encourage them to change their assessment or withdraw their negative assessment.
 
d) Providing evaluation ratings based on undisclosed or non-transparent criteria.
 
d) Enabling consumers to evaluate only one aspect of a good or service.
 
e) Offering opportunities such as gift vouchers and discounts to consumers in order to encourage them to provide only positive reviews.
 
f) If positive or negative options are presented together in making evaluations, not determining the expressions used in favour of positive evaluations in a clear or understandable manner or directing consumers to make positive evaluations by designing the commercial design to contain dark commercial practices,
 
g) To impose difficulties or additional obligations on consumers in transactions and processes related to negative evaluations compared to positive evaluations.
 
 
 
Practices that may manipulate consumer evaluations of sellers, providers or intermediary service providers are also considered within the scope of unfair commercial practice and are exemplified with subparagraphs. The Guideline provides the following example under subparagraph d: The consumer cannot be obliged to comment only on the food delivered by a restaurant. The consumer should also be able to comment on delivery, price and similar issues.
 
 
 
In addition, it is seen that dark design activities are also evaluated within the scope of unfair commercial practice under subparagraph f. At this point, it is worth noting that the Ministry of Trade announced in August that the Advertising Board imposed sanctions on companies engaged in dark design activities and that they aim to separate consumers from situations that may cause unfair competition, contrary to commercial ethics and victimisation due to manipulative practices, and to ensure that consumer preferences are made within the framework of transparent and accurate information flow. Following the notification, the Advertisement Board sanctioned many channels for the first time on the grounds that dark design activities were carried out, as seen in its meeting numbered 336. In this context, it is foreseen that dark design activities are on the radar of the Advertising Board and sanctions will be imposed on many sellers, providers or intermediary service providers that carry out such activities in the coming period.
 
 
 
GRC LEGAL Commentary and Concluding Remarks
 
With the developing technology, it is seen that consumers make most of their purchases through internet providers and intermediary service providers in terms of both cost and time saving rather than traditional ways of purchasing products/services. In this context, within the scope of the aforementioned and other legislation, many regulations have been put into effect in order to prevent the transactions of consumers from being manipulated/manipulated by the goods and services market.  The Guideline is also of high importance as it is a regulation issued in accordance with the Law and the Regulation.
 
In particular, clarifying the concept of ‘consumer evaluations’ and providing detailed information by using examples at many points in the Guidelines are among the prominent aspects of the Guidelines. As a matter of fact, considering that consumers take into consideration the evaluations made on internet platforms by consumers who have previously purchased the same product and/or service, it is seen that the relevant evaluations have a great place in the goods and services market.
 
In addition, certain obligations imposed on sellers, suppliers and intermediary service providers by the Guidelines in order to prevent misleading consumers and exposing them to unfair commercial practices also serve the purpose of the relevant legislation. Accordingly, it is important for sellers, suppliers and intermediary service providers to comply with the Guidelines as soon as possible.