Expert legal advice from the competition lawyers

CMA investigates fake online reviews on Amazon and Google sites

First published by Author on May 05, 2022 in the following categories: Consumer Law Digital Industry Investigations and tagged with | | | | | |

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) previously announced that it had begun an investigation into potentially fake online reviews which may exist on major websites and online marketplaces. It is understood that there may be concerns that businesses are not doing enough to monitor and take down misleading reviews, and that some could be benefiting from them.

Since the birth of online shopping, consumers have been afforded a huge breadth of choice when buying products or services, and all in an easy way. However, the internet also comes with risks for consumers, with many scammers and disreputable businesses trying to take advantage of the faceless nature of online shopping, hiding behind a screen as they attempt to convince unsuspecting consumers to make purchases.

The existence of fake online reviews is one of the major downsides to online shopping, posing a difficulty for consumers as authenticity can often be hard to assess accurately. It is, therefore, important that businesses appropriately oversee online reviews and remove the fake ones, or they could be unfairly profiting from the deception of customers.

What is the CMA investigating?

Although no concrete allegations were previously made against the likes of Google and Amazon, they are two primary subjects of the investigation into potentially fake online reviews after concerns had been raised about allegations of failing to prevent such reviews from spreading. If any suspicions were to be proven in the course of the CMA’s information gathering, the regulator may also need to carefully consider whether any competition laws or consumers laws have been broken.

It was previously announced that there were four potential points of contention in the investigation. According to the CMA, they wanted to ascertain whether or not Amazon and Google have made sufficient efforts to:

  • “detect fake and misleading reviews or suspicious behaviour” – e.g. where users may have issued a positive review of the same product range or businesses at similar times.
  • investigate and promptly remove fake and misleading reviews where appropriate.
  • impose sanctions on anyone reviewing in a misleading way, and on companies, to act as a deterrent against fake online reviews.
  • in the case of Amazon, preventing sellers from misusing product listings as a means of taking positive reviews of other products and construing them as reviews for their own products.

Source: CMA.

The distorting effect of fake online reviews

According to current suspicions, the systems in place could have the potential to severely distort the image of businesses, adding a sense of authenticity and high standard to sellers by means of higher star ratings with potentially exaggerated or fake customer testimonies. The knock-on effect of these fake online reviews will undoubtedly be to raise prospective buyers’ opinions of brands and products, such that they are more likely to trust in the quality of the product they are buying.

Digital markets and competition law

Given the growth of online business, the CMA has a Digital Markets Unit dedicated to ensuring businesses are using the internet fairly and in accordance with consumer law. There is an additional aim to restrain the dominance of big tech companies, which undoubtedly include those such as Amazon and Google.

It is important, in respect of competition and consumer law, that we ensure that all consumers get a fair deal. Where businesses breach the law, those affected could end up making the wrong choices under false pretences. This cannot be allowed to happen.

IMPORTANT: advice on this page is intended to be up-to-date for the 'first published date'.

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