Thorny problem of fake reviews faces an official investigation, with the removal efforts of Amazon and Google being examined by UK watchdog
The UK’s competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has confirmed it is examining the actions of both Amazon and Google.
The CMA began an initial investigation into the issue of fake reviews back in May 2020, but on Friday it announced it would look into whether Amazon and Google have done enough to detect and remove such reviews.
In September 2020, Amazon said that it had removed tens of thousands of product reviews following analyses by academics and media outlets into the problem of fake reviews – an issue said to have worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Large numbers of five-star reviews are a key element in boosting a product’s rankings on Amazon’s and Google websites. Misleading reviews are there a massive e-commerce problem, most notably for Amazon.
The CMA said it will now “gather further information to determine whether these two firms may have broken consumer law by taking insufficient action to protect shoppers from fake reviews.”
The CMA investigation opened in May 2020, and assessed several platforms’ internal systems and processes for identifying and dealing with fake reviews.
According to the CMA, this flagged up specific concerns such as whether Amazon and Google have been doing enough to:
- Detect fake and misleading reviews or suspicious patterns of behaviour. For example, where the same users have reviewed the same range of products or businesses at similar times to each other and there is no connection between those products or businesses – or where the review suggests that the reviewer has received a payment or other incentive to write a positive review.
- Investigate and, where necessary, remove promptly fake and misleading reviews from their platforms.
- Impose adequate sanctions on reviewers or businesses to deter them and others from posting fake or misleading reviews on their platforms – including those who have published these types of reviews many times.
The CMA said it was also concerned that Amazon’s systems have been failing adequately to prevent and deter some sellers from manipulating product listings – for example, by co-opting positive reviews from other products.
“Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their money based on those recommendations,” said Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive.
“Equally, it’s simply not fair if some businesses can fake 5-star reviews to give their products or services the most prominence, while law-abiding businesses lose out,” said Coscelli.
“We are investigating concerns that Amazon and Google have not been doing enough to prevent or remove fake reviews to protect customers and honest businesses,” Coscelli concluded. “It’s important that these tech platforms take responsibility and we stand ready to take action if we find that they are not doing enough.”
If the CMA determines that Amazon and Google have broken consumer protection law, it can take enforcement action.
This could range from securing formal commitments from the firms to change the way they deal with fake reviews or escalating to court action if needed.