The Federal Court has ordered penalties totalling $380,000 against Aveling Homes Pty Ltd (Aveling) for engaging in conduct liable to mislead the public in connection with two online review websites. The company’s Group Sales and Marketing Manager, Mr Sean Quartermaine, was ordered to pay $25,000 for being knowingly concerned in the conduct.
Aveling is a Perth-based home building company which operates and controls the review website www.avelinghomesproductreviews.com.au and until 3 February 2017 also operated and controlled the review website www.firsthomeownerscentreproductreviews.com.au.
The Federal Court found that during periods in 2016, Aveling represented that each of its review websites were independent of Aveling and were affiliated with the website www.productreview.com.au when that was not the case.
“Aveling held back bad reviews from its review website to give a more favourable impression of its services,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“Consumers are increasingly relying on online review sites to assist with their purchasing decisions. They are entitled to expect that review sites are independent and unbiased.”
“Companies publishing customer reviews online must be clear with consumers whether or not they accurately reflect the full range of consumer feedback – the good and the bad,” Mr Sims said.
The Court also found that the overall star rating and reviews on the review websites were more favourable towards Aveling’s products and services than would have been the case if all the reviews received by Aveling were published.
The features and appearance of the review websites that caused the contravening conduct were designed by Mr Quartermaine.
Aveling undertook to the Court not to engage in similar conduct for a period of three years and agreed to contribute to the ACCC’s costs.
Aveling is a residential building company that has operated in Western Australia since 2009. During the relevant period Aveling operated two home building businesses, Aveling Homes and First Home Owners Centre. Aveling operated an official website and a review website for each business:
www.firsthomeownerscentre.com.au (this website is no longer in operation)