he membership fee request by consumer complaint websites creates a significant disadvantage for the complained-about brands and commercial companies. To understand this issue, we need to examine the changes brought about by the habits of shopping in the century we live in. Nowadays, instead of physically visiting stores before buying a product or service, we can access all information related to that product or service with just a click. During this process, consumer complaint websites such as “şikayetvar.com” or “şikayetimvar.com” often come to our attention. We must admit that the comments and complaints on these websites have a significant impact on our decision to purchase a product or service.
For this very reason, consumer complaint websites, which provide consumers with “freedom of expression and complaint,” use this freedom as a threat against commercial companies. Consumers can write criticism and complaints about the products or services they have purchased on these websites, often without revealing their identities, and do so free of charge. While this falls within the scope of the freedom of expression and complaint rights of consumers, it also provides a basis for malicious use.
Commercial companies, on the other hand, are forced to become members of these websites in order to first identify the person making the complaint, then respond to the complaints, communicate with the complainant, or clear their names. This is where companies encounter the “monthly membership fee” demand from consumer complaint websites, and these fees are not insignificant.
Companies that refuse to pay the membership fee and cannot access the site become companies that do not take their customers’ complaints seriously, losing points compared to their competitors who accept the membership fee. Discrimination in publishing complaints about companies that are members and those that are not, presenting advertisements for rival companies alongside those with damaging comments about their commercial reputation, occasionally not publishing complaints about advertising companies, or significantly altering and publishing them, are all considered among the grievances created by consumer complaint websites.
According to Article 54/2 of the Turkish Commercial Code, “Unfair and unlawful actions in commercial practices, contrary to the principle of good faith, affecting relations between competitors or suppliers and customers in other ways” are deemed unfair and unlawful.
Additionally, Article 55/1/a-5 of the Turkish Commercial Code states that “Actions contrary to the principle of good faith, such as making false or misleading statements about oneself, one’s goods, business products, activities, prices, or unnecessarily disparaging the goods, business products, or prices of others, or unfairly taking advantage of the reputation of others; comparing others, their goods, business products, or prices, or advancing a third party through similar means” are considered violations of the principle of good faith.
In summary, the demand for membership fees from commercial companies by consumer complaint websites constitutes unfair competition by violating the principle of good faith under the Turkish Commercial Code. Furthermore, the use of the freedom provided to consumers by these websites as a means to make money from commercial companies falls under the abuse of rights within the scope of the Civil Code.
In a lawsuit opened to determine the unlawfulness and unfair competition of the membership fee request by consumer complaint websites, the 11th Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in 2015, setting a precedent in this regard.
However, despite this ruling, consumer complaint websites continue this unfair and unlawful practice. Ending this injustice is possible only through commercial companies asserting their rights in this matter and acting together.