The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is launching a formal investigation into Amazon and Google over fake reviews.
The CMA says the action comes amid concern that the two digital businesses have not done enough to combat fake reviews on their websites – and it will now look to find out if the two have broken consumer law as a result.
The CMA first opened an initial investigation in May 2020 to look at how the internal systems and processes operated on a number of platforms to identify and deal with fake reviews.
Now it is to look further at specific concerns around Amazon and Google, including whether the two have done enough to detect fake and misleading reviews or suspicious patterns of behaviour.
Such patterns would include the same users reviewing the same products or businesses at similar times when there is no connection between the products or businesses, or when the review suggests the reviewer been paid to write a positive review. The new probe will also assess whether the two do enough to investigate and remove fake and misleading reviews while also taking action against reviewers and businesses in a way that deters them from doing so again.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, says: “Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their money based on those recommendations. 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.
"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. 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 does find that the firms have broken consumer protection law, it would then be able to take enforcement action. That could range from securing commitments that the businesses will deal with the issue to taking the two to court.
Last year, following a similar investigation, Facebook, Instagram and eBay removed groups and banned individuals for buying and selling fake reviews on their sites.
The CMA’s investigation into fake reviews is part of a broader programme of CMA work, which includes establishing a new pro-competition regulatory regime for digital markets, to curb the power of big tech. This will be achieved through the Digital Markets Unit. As the CMA works with the Government on proposals, it will continue to use its existing powers to their fullest extent in order to examine and protect competition in these areas.
Amazon says it is working hard to allow only genuine product reviews and had clear policies in place for reviewers and selling partners that ban abuse of community features, and that it would suspend, ban and take legal action against those who violate its policies. It aimed to ensure that customer see authentic reviews to help them buy, and in 2020 it stopped more than 200m suspected fake reviews.
Amazon says in a statement: “To help earn the trust of customers, we devote significant resources to preventing fake or incentivised reviews from appearing in our store. We work hard to ensure that reviews accurately reflect the experience that customers have had with a product. We will continue to assist the CMA with its enquiries and we note its confirmation that no findings have been made against our business. We are relentless in protecting our store and will take action to stop fake reviews regardless of the size or location of those who attempt this abuse.
A Google spokesperson says: “Our strict policies clearly state reviews must be based on real experiences, and when we find policy violations, we take action — from removing abusive content to disabling user accounts. We look forward to continuing our work with the CMA to share more on how our industry-leading technology and review teams work to help users find relevant and useful information on Google.’’