October 15th, 2015
According to the consent agreement, some Bell employees were encouraged to download and use the “MyBell Mobile” and “Virgin Mobile My Account” apps, and to give them a “5-star” rating and positive customer review if they liked them. The reviews appeared on the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store in November. The employees did not disclose that they worked for Bell. Bell’s senior management acted quickly to remove the reviews after they were alerted to them.
The apps allow Bell and Virgin Mobile customers to manage their wireless accounts from their smartphones; they can check their balance, make payments, view data usage, and manage pricing plans.
The Bureau took the position that by failing to reveal that the reviews were made by employees, Bell created the materially false or misleading impression that the posts were made by independent and impartial consumers. The posts had the further effect of temporarily impacting the overall star rating for the apps online.
In addition to the administrative monetary penalty, Bell is required to develop a corporate compliance program, and will also host a workshop on online advertising to promote, discuss and enhance Canadians’ trust in the digital economy, which will include content relating to the integrity of online reviews.
The Bureau’s investigation into the reviews of these free apps commenced in December 2014.
A ten month investigation and a $1.25 million fine seems disproportionate to Bell’s conduct, which involved its employees posting reviews of account management applications that are given away for free, and are only useful to existing Bell customers. No one was duped into paying money for a product that didn’t perform as advertised. We rate this one zero stars.