Amazon and Google will be formally investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over concerns that not enough is being done to combat fake reviews.
The CMA will open a formal probe intended to gather further information and to determine whether the two sites may have broken consumer law, following an initial investigation in May 2020 to assess the internal systems of several platforms.
The announcement follows a series of Which? investigations into fake reviews on Amazon, Google and other platforms, and the persistent problems they cause for consumers.
Find out how to spot a fake review in our detailed guide.
Concerns around fake reviews on Amazon and Google
Preliminary investigations by the CMA have raised concerns about whether enough is being done to combat fake reviews. This includes:
- Detection of suspicious patterns of behaviour, such as the same reviewer rating the same range of products or businesses in a short period of time.
- Evidence of payment or incentivisation to write positive reviews
- Prompt removal of fake or misleading reviews from the platform
- Adequate sanctions imposed on reviewers or businesses to deter further fraudulent activity.
The announcement follows intervention from the regulator to tackle the trading of fake reviews. Earlier this year, Facebook promised to suspend or ban users that promote fake reviews, following a request from the CMA.
The CMA has said it is concerned that existing methods are inadequate to combat fake reviews, and prevent and deter sellers from manipulating product and business listings that could negatively impact shopper’s experience.
If the CMA does find that Amazon and Google have broken consumer protection law, it can take enforcement action that includes securing formal commitments to change the way fake reviews are dealt with, or escalation to court action.
A series of Which? investigations have highlighted the issues surrounding fake reviews, including how best-selling and Amazon’s Choice products revealed repeated claims from buyers of being offered incentives for positive reviews. Earlier this year, we also showed how fake and misleading reviews on Google business listings could be used to give businesses an unfair advantage.
Discover how fake reviews could make you more than twice as likely to choose poor-quality products in our unique behavioural experiment.
Which? calls for stronger action to combat fake reviews
Which? believes that more needs to be done to address the ongoing problem of fake reviews across a range of platforms, including Amazon and Google, and that strong action must be taken if the platforms are found to have broken the law.
If the CMA’s investigation doesn’t resolve the problem, the government must consider how it will increase websites’ legal responsibilities for fake and misleading review activity.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:
‘We have repeatedly exposed fake reviews on websites including Amazon and Google, so this investigation is a positive step. The CMA must now move swiftly towards establishing whether these companies have broken the law.
‘This should prompt Amazon and Google to finally take the necessary steps to protect users from the growing tide of fake reviews on their platforms and, if they fail to do so, the regulator must be prepared to take strong enforcement action.
‘The government must also give online platforms greater legal responsibility for tackling fake and fraudulent content on their sites – including fake and misleading review activity.’
Amazon and Google respond
Amazon says it is taking the problem of fake reviews seriously, and that its objective is to ensure customers only see authentic and relevant reviews on its site. It said:
‘To help earn the trust of customers, we devote significant resources to preventing fake or incentivized 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.’
Google responded: ‘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.’