UK antitrust watchdog investigating Amazon and Google over fake reviews

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is probing whether Amazon and Google broke consumer laws by failing to take action against fake reviews on their sites, the agency announced Friday.

“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,” Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said in a statement. “Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their money based on those recommendations.” She added that it was unfair to businesses that adhere to the rules if other businesses can give their own products fake 5-star reviews.

An Amazon spokesperson said in an email to The Verge on Friday that the company devotes “significant resources to preventing fake or incentivized reviews” from appearing on its platform, adding that the company works to ensure reviews accurately reflect a customer’s experience with a product. “We will continue to assist the CMA with its enquiries and we note its confirmation that no findings have been made against our business,” the spokesperson said.

In a June 16th blog post, Amazon said some “bad actors” were using external platforms to buy and sell fake reviews, and it blamed social media companies it said had been slow to act in flagging fake reviews on their own platforms — although it noted the response time had improved somewhat over the last year.

“While we appreciate that some social media companies have become much faster at responding, to address this problem at scale, it is imperative for social media companies to invest adequately in proactive controls to detect and enforce fake reviews ahead of our reporting the issue to them,” the blog post reads.

Amazon recently removed several gadget brands’ storefronts from its site following a Wall Street Journal investigation into fake reviews.

A Google spokesperson said in an email to The Verge on Friday that it has strict policies that clearly state that reviews must be based on real experiences, “and when we find policy violations, we take action— from removing abusive content to disabling user accounts.”

Once it concludes its investigation, the CMA can take enforcement action if it finds Amazon or Google broke UK consumer protection laws, which could range from getting commitments from the tech firms to change how they handle fake reviews to possible court action. The CMA noted that, at this stage, it “has not reached a view” on whether the companies broke any laws.

The investigation is the UK regulator’s latest attempt to scrutinize fake reviews on US tech platforms. In April, Facebook removed 16,000 groups that were trading fake reviews after the CMA raised concerns.

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