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Amazon takes action to stop fake reviews as MPs begin scrutiny of new digital consumer bill

Amazon said this week it will be stepping up action to stop fake reviews ahead of new rules that will punish companies for allowing fake reviews on their websites

Last year 125 million customers left nearly 1.5 billion reviews and ratings on products across Amazon stores. The tech giant said it had invested significantly in AI software and tools to block more than 200 million suspected fake reviews in 2022.

‘We will continue to build sophisticated tools that protect customers, our selling partners, and our store from bad actors that attempt to profit by proliferating fake reviews globally,’ said Amazon in a statement released this week.

Last year it took legal action against 90 ‘fake review brokers’ and sued more than 10,000 Facebook group administrators who attempted to post fake reviews. It says it is increasing its action this year against those who facilitate fake reviews and is calling for better collaboration across industry and consumer groups to support this. 

Public debate on new laws to tackle unfair practices

Amazon’s commitment to crack down on the increasingly sophisticated tactics of fake review brokers comes as MPs open up public debate on new rules which aim to tackle unfair practices on online platforms.

The new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill currently working its way through parliament seeks to make fake reviews illegal. MPs have started to scrutinise the details of the bill, which began with public hearings with regulators and consumer groups on Tuesday and continues with industry today.

The new legislation will give the UK competition watchdog – the Competition and Markets Authority – stronger powers to investigate and impose penalties on tech companies that abuse their dominant position. The new bill will also crack down on unfair commercial practices like fake reviews.

Clamping down on fake reviews

The government has said it will consult on whether fake reviews should be added to the current blacklist of banned commercial practices. The new rules propose to ban companies from facilitating fake reviews – including commissioning or incentivising someone to submit a fake review or posting reviews on their platforms without checking they are genuine.

The bill has received broad support from consumer groups but some are calling for faster action on adding fake reviews to the blacklist of unfair commercial practices. Which? has found that fake reviews can lead people to pay for poor quality products and services. It recently uncovered how easily Facebook fake review factories can be found, which trade reviews for Amazon and other sites.

In response to Amazon’s call for action on fake reviews and the new rules in the digital markets bill, Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

‘A better collaborative effort by industry and government to share data to tackle the problem would be a step in the right direction. However, as Amazon suggests, there needs to be more clarity on enforcement.’

‘The government’s Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will be an important first step to enabling the regulator to clamp down on fake reviews, but the bill must go further by explicitly making the buying, selling and hosting of fake reviews subject to criminal enforcement.’

Tracey Reilly, Head of Policy and Markets at Consumer Scotland, also gave support to adding fake reviews to the list of banned commercial practices:

‘Fake reviews can harm consumer confidence in markets, and we believe that the banning of this misleading practice will therefore serve to boost consumer confidence and reduce consumer detriment.’

Consumer lawsuits against Amazon and other big tech firms

The new law will give the UK competition watchdog – via its Digital Markets Unit – stronger powers to investigate, and to impose penalties of up to 10% of global turnover on tech companies that abuse their dominant position in the market. Currently, rules allow for legal firms to bring group claims on behalf of UK consumers to help them get back what they’re owed. 

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are the subject of current legal claims for allegedly abusing their dominant position and, in some cases, bumping up prices at the expense of UK consumers. For instance, Amazon is facing a £900m legal claim after evidence found it is not always offering customers the best deals. 

Check out our group claims page for more information on all current consumer claims. All claims, if successful, aim to compensate affected customers. Sign up to Consumer Voice to stay informed about these claims and find out whether you’re eligible to claim.

Next steps for new digital markets bill

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute has said stronger national action can only work with effective local regulation. John Herriman, Chief Executive of CTSI, said:

‘We very much welcome the commitment to increase powers to support Trading Standards to hold all businesses to account as we are aware of the significant consumer detriment which may arise from unfair and misleading practices.’

A group of cross-party MPs will continue to scrutinise the bill and suggested amendments received via written evidence until it reports back to parliament by 18 July at the latest. 

It is not yet known whether the third reading of the bill will be before Summer recess. It is not anticipated to reach the House of Lords until the autumn.

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