The UK competition regulator has opened an investigation into Amazon and Google over fake reviews on their sites that may be duping consumers.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the two companies may not have done enough to detect and remove fake reviews or to take action against those responsible for them. The regulator said it could take the tech companies to court if it found they had broken consumer protection law.
The update follows a Financial Times investigation into Amazon’s product reviews last year, which exposed a lucrative ecosystem in which users were being paid to leave thousands of five-star ratings on its site.
An investigation by Which? in February revealed an ecosystem of websites offering review manipulation services designed to game Amazon Marketplace listings. The company said it had uncovered “a thriving industry where potentially hundreds of thousands of [reviews are] bought and sold for as little as £5 each.”
The CMA said on Friday that Amazon may have failed to prevent sellers from manipulating product listings, for example, by taking positive reviews from other products and using them on their own. The CMA has also been working with other social media sites including Instagram and Facebook in connection with the trading of fake reviews.
Facebook promised in April to ban or suspend users who repeatedly set up groups and profiles to trade fake or misleading reviews, including fraudulent negative write-ups used by rivals to slam competitors.
“Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their 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.”
He 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.”
In a statement, Amazon 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.”
It added: “We will continue to assist the CMA with its inquiries, and we note its confirmation that no findings have been made against our business.”
Google 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.”