Amazon and Google are to be investigated by the competition watchdog over concerns that they have not been doing enough to combat the problem of widespread fake reviews on their websites.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will look into the issue to determine whether the two online behemoths have broken consumer law by taking insufficient action to protect shoppers from fake reviews.
“Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending money based on those recommendations,” said Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive.
“Equally, it’s simply not fair if some businesses can fake five-star reviews to give their products or services the most prominence, while law-abiding businesses lose out.”
It’s the newest step in the CMA’s observation of fake reviews on major platforms, a process that first started two years ago.
Some sellers use fake and misleading reviews to improve their star ratings, which can affect how prominently their company and products are displayed when consumers shop online. The CMA is concerned that Amazon’s systems have been failing to prevent and deter some sellers from manipulating their product listings by, for example, co-opting positive reviews from other products.
The investigation will look into suspicious patterns of behaviour of the reviews, including instances in which the reviewer has received payment or incentives to write a positive review, investigate and remove fake and misleading reviews from the platforms, and impose sanctions on reviewers or businesses to help stamp out the issue.
Coscelli added: “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.”
Should the CMA find that Amazon and Google have broken consumer protection law, enforcement action could be taken. The firms could be forced to issue formal commitments to change the way they deal with fake reviews, or even taken to court.
Last year, the CMA forced Facebook, Instagram, and eBay to remove groups and invidicuals buying and selling fake reviews on their sites.
The investigation into fake reviews is part of a broader programme to establish a new pro-competition regulatory regime for digital markets, and to curb the power of big tech companies.
‘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,’ read a statement on the Government’s website.