Competition watchdog launches investigation into fake online reviews

Competition websites’ efforts to protect customers from false and misleading product reviews need to be investigated by the competition watchdog.

In the wake of the growing importance of online shopping during the coronavirus blockade, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it will investigate how sites currently detect and respond to fake reviews.

The research will look at things like suspicious reviews, companies manipulating the presentation of reviews, and how websites handle reviews where the reviewer has been paid or received an incentive to post.

The CMA has not identified any websites it will focus on in its investigation.

Consumer group Which? has previously warned about the reputation of fake or misleading reviews on a number of websites and called for a CMA investigation into this issue earlier this year.

At the time, the group said that such reviews “cheat online shoppers.”

Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA, said, “Most of us read reviews online to help decide which products or services to buy.

“During the lockdown, we depend more than ever on online shopping, so it is very important that the online reviews we read are real opinions.

“If someone is persuaded to buy something after reading a fake or misleading review, they could end up wasting their money on a product or service that is not what they wanted.

“Our research will investigate whether several large websites are doing enough to fight fake reviews. And we will not hesitate to take further action if we find evidence that they are not doing what is required by law. “

The CMA said at this point not to claim that a website has acted illegally, but to ensure that it has robust systems in place and would take enforcement action to ensure necessary changes if necessary, including prosecution.

The watchdog said it would identify the companies involved at the time.

The investigation’s announcement comes because the CMA said it had also made commitments from Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, to address the risk of people buying and selling fake online reviews through the platform.

The watchdog has previously received similar assurances from Facebook and eBay about addressing the issue of fake reviews.

Neena Bhati, head of campaigns at Which?, Welcomed the start of the study.

“It is good to see that the regulator focuses his attention on assessment sites such as Which? investigations have repeatedly uncovered false or rewarded reviews used by unscrupulous sellers to mislead people on some of the world’s largest websites, “she said.

“Online platforms should take more responsibility to help prevent users from being misled by fake reviews, and today’s announcement should serve as a warning to companies that are not cracking down on a lack of proper oversight.

“We provide further evidence to the CMA that we hope will prove useful in the next phase of its investigation – and we expect the regulator to take appropriate action against platforms identified as failing in their responsibilities to protect consumers . “

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