Amazon and Google are being investigated in the UK amid worries that phony five-star reviews on their websites are deceiving customers. Each may face legal prosecution for violating consumer protection laws.
Both companies claim to have rules and resources in place to combat fraudulent reviews. But, the Competition and Markets Authority is also concerned that “law-abiding enterprises” selling on Amazon and Google may be disadvantaged by companies who make deceptive recommendations. After an early examination last year into whether internet corporations were doing enough to protect customers, the CMA has initiated the formal investigation.
During the pandemic, online shopping has exploded as retailers deemed “non-essential” have been compelled to close physical stores during periods of lockdown. The CMA is concerned, in particular, about whether Amazon and Google have been “doing enough” to “identify fraudulent and misleading reviews or suspicious patterns of behavior.” This includes situations where the same people “have evaluated the same range of products or businesses at similar times…or where the reviewer appears to have received a payment or other incentive to publish a positive review.”
The CMA is also investigating whether Google and Amazon rapidly examine and remove fraudulent and misleading reviews, as well as what penalties they impose on users. The agency warned it may take enforcement action if it discovers the companies have infringed consumer protection laws. This might involve obtaining explicit agreements from Amazon and Google to improve their approaches to phony reviews, but it could even lead to court action if necessary.
What does Amazon and Google have to say?
According to an Amazon spokeswoman, the corporation has “substantial resources dedicated to preventing fraudulent or incentivized reviews from appearing in our shop.” They also said that, “We will continue to assist the CMA with its investigations, and we are pleased to learn that no conclusions have been made against our company.”
Google’s regulations stipulate that “reviews must be based on real experiences,” and that “we take action” when it finds violations, including banning user accounts.
A report published earlier this year by consumer group “Which?” uncovered a business that specializes in delivering phony reviews to companies in exchange for money or merchandise. One of these companies had 62,000 reviewers worldwide and cost retailers on Amazon Marketplace about £13 GBP (~$18 USD) for a review, according to the report. It also offered bulk discounts, with sellers paying £620 GBP (~$856 USD) for 50 reviews or £8,000 GBP (~$11,045 USD) for 1,000.
“The CMA must now work fast towards discovering whether these firms have infringed the law,” Which? director of policy and campaigning Rocio Concha said of the CMA’s probe. “This should encourage Amazon and Google to finally take the required actions to protect customers on their platforms from the rising tsunami of phony reviews, and if they don’t, the regulator must be ready to take severe enforcement action.”
Honestly, we’re not surprised that these giant enterprises either don’t care or won’t care. In related news, Google opened up a physical store in New York City recently.