The UK’s competition watchdog, the CMA, has opened another investigation into Big Tech — this one targeted at Amazon and Google over how well they handle (or, well, don’t) fake reviews. The Competition and Markets Authority has taken an interest in online reviews for several years, as far back as 2015.
It also went after eBay and Facebook back in 2019 to squeeze the trade in fake reviews it found thriving on their marketplaces. After continuing to pressure those platforms, the watchdog was given pledges; they’d do more. Albeit, in the case of Facebook, it took until April 2021 for it to take down 16,000 groups that had been trading fake reviews — and the CMA expressed disappointment that it had taken Facebook over a year to take meaningful action.
Now the CMA has Amazon and Google in its sites, both of which control platforms hosting user reviews — saying it will be gathering evidence to determine whether they may have broken UK law by taking insufficient action to protect shoppers from fake reviews.
Businesses that mislead consumers or don’t take action to prevent consumers from being misled may breach UK laws intended to protect consumers from unfair trading.
The CMA says its investigation into Amazon and Google follows an initial probe, which it started in May 2020, which was focused on assessing several platforms’ internal systems and processes for identifying and dealing with fake reviews. That work raised specific concerns about whether the two tech giants have been doing enough to:
- Detect fake and misleading reviews or suspicious patterns of behavior. For example, where the same users have reviewed the same range of products or businesses at similar times, and there is no connection between those firms or products, 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 studies many times.
The regulator also said it’s 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.
And, well, who hasn’t been browsing product reviews on Amazon, only to be drawn up short by a reviewer earnestly referring to product attributes that clearly bear no relation to the sale item in question?
While the user reviews that pop up on, for example, Google Maps after a search for a local business, can also display ‘unusual patterns‘ of 5-starring (or 1-starring) behavior…
Commenting on its investigation into concerns that Amazon and Google are not doing enough to combat the problem of fake reviews, the CMA’s CEO Andrea Coscelli had this to say in a statement: