CMA probes Amazon and Google over fake reviews

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched formal enforcement cases against Amazon and Google in relation to possible breaches of consumer protection law. The CMA has concerns that Amazon and Google have not been doing enough to tackle fake reviews on their sites.

This comes following an initial CMA investigation in May 2020 to assess the internal systems and processes employed by several online platforms for the identification and management of bogus reviews.

The CMA was found to have specific concerns relating to the conduct of both Amazon and Google following this investigation, including whether enough is being done to detect fake reviews or suspicious patterns of behaviour, whether reviews are being properly investigated and removed, and if adequate sanctions are imposed for those responsible.

This next phase of the investigation will see the CMA gather further information from both firms to determine whether their insufficient action constitutes a breach of consumer law.

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s Chief Executive, said of the investigation:

“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.”

“Fake and misleading reviews have the potential to impact on businesses’ star ratings and how prominently companies and products are displayed to consumers, “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”

said Coscelli.

Further concerns have also been raised around the failure of Amazon’s systems to adequately prevent and deter some sellers from manipulating product listings for example, by co-opting positive reviews from other products.

If, after investigating, the CMA considers the firms have broken consumer protection law, it can take enforcement action. This could include securing formal commitments from the firms to change the way they deal with fake reviews or escalating to court action if needed. However, the CMA has not reached a view on whether Amazon and Google have broken the law at this stage.

Amazon commented:

“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.”

A Google spokesman said:

“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.”

The CMA’s investigation into fake reviews is part of a broader programme of 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 and working with the Government on proposals to examine and protect competition in this sector.

Previous CMA investigations into the trading of fake reviews last year resulted in Facebook, Instagram and eBay removing groups and banning individuals for buying and selling fake reviews on their sites.

More information about the CMA’s probe into Amazon and Google can be found here.

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