The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has urged both Facebook and eBay to act on the sale of fake reviews through their platforms.
‘Troubling evidence’ of a thriving marketplace for fake online reviews was found between November 2018 and June 2019, including a number of Facebook groups where people offered to write fake reviews, and eBay listings offering fake reviews for sale.
The move follows a series of investigations by Which? over the past year to highlight the source and scale of fake reviews, and the problems they cause for online shoppers.
How to spot fake reviews – find out how to avoid falling for fake or incentivised reviews.
Web sweeps uncover fake reviews for sale
The CMA conducted ‘web sweeps’ over a seven-month period and found 100 eBay listings offering fake reviews for sale. The same web sweeps also identified 26 Facebook groups where people offered to write fake reviews for companies, or where companies recruited people to write fake reviews.
Since the CMA wrote to the sites, both have told the regulator that they will co-operate. Facebook has also informed the CMA that most of the 26 groups have been removed.
The CMA has welcomed this response, and is not alleging that Facebook or eBay are intentionally allowing this content to appear on their websites. However, going forward, it expects the sites to put measures in place to ensure that all the identified content is removed and to stop it from reappearing.
Andrea Coscelli, CMA Chief Executive said: ‘Lots of us rely on reviews when shopping online to decide what to buy. It is important that people are able to trust that reviews are genuine, rather than something someone has been paid to write.
‘Fake reviews mean that people might make the wrong choice and end up with a product or service that’s not right for them. They’re also unfair to businesses who do the right thing.
‘We want Facebook and eBay to conduct an urgent review of their sites to prevent fake and misleading online reviews from being bought and sold.’
The move has been described as the first phase of a wider programme of CMA work aimed at tackling fake and misleading reviews.
How Which? is fighting fake reviews
In 2018, Which? got first-hand insight into the Facebook groups peddling fake or incentivised reviews. We went undercover to find a range of groups willing to reimburse shoppers for Amazon purchases in exchange for positive reviews, and after honestly reviewing products, were in some cases asked to increase our ratings, or refused the promised refund.
Our follow-up investigation this year found thousands of ‘fake’ customer reviews on popular tech categories on Amazon, and highlighted the unknown brands that dominate the marketplace.
Which? welcomes any efforts to stamp out fake reviews, which can mislead customers into buying inferior products in an increasingly competitive online marketplace.
Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, said: ‘We’ve exposed how fake or paid-for reviews are a huge problem on online platforms, and can mislead customers about the quality and safety of the products they are buying.
‘Unfortunately the situation looks like it is getting worse, not better, so it’s encouraging that the CMA is taking the first step to tackle the issue.
‘Writing or commissioning fake or incentivised reviews is in breach of consumer law and can lead to criminal action for the individuals responsible. Online platforms that facilitate the trade of fake reviews also have to take this matter seriously and move past the inefficient whack-a-mole approach of only removing fake reviews and groups after they spring up.
‘If they fail to put the systems and rules in place to address the problem, or these groups simply appear elsewhere, the CMA must urgently consider what action is needed to stamp out the scourge of fake reviews.’