Amazon and Google have been hit with a competition probe in the UK over concerns they have not done enough to tackle fake reviews on their sites.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) today opened a formal investigation into the tech platforms to examine whether they have broken consumer laws by taking insufficient action to protect shoppers.
It comes after an initial investigation, launched in May last year, looked at both companies’ internal systems for identifying and removing fake reviews.
The watchdog said this had raised concerns over whether the tech giants were doing enough to detect, investigate and remove fake and misleading reviews and impose adequate sanctions on offending reviewers or businesses.
The CMA said it was also concerned that Amazon had failed to prevent and deter some sellers from manipulating product listings, for example by co-opting positive reviews from other products.
Amazon said it stopped more than 200m fake reviews last year before they were seen by customers and more than 99 per cent of reviews enforcement was driven by proactive detection.
“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 CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli.
“Equally, it’s simply not fair if some businesses can fake 5-star reviews to give their products or services the most prominence, while law-abiding businesses lose out.
“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.”
If the CMA rules the companies have broken consumer law they could face enforcement action such as formal commitments on changing their review practices or even court action.
Last year Facebook and Ebay vowed to crack down on the trading of fake reviews on their platforms following an investigation by the competition watchdog.
It comes just a week after the CMA opened a market study into Google and Apple to examine whether their dominance in the smartphone market was harming consumers.
An Amazon spokesperson said: “To help earn the trust of customers, we devote significant resources to preventing fake or incentivised reviews from appearing in our store. We work hard to ensure that reviews accurately reflect the experience that customers have had 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. We are relentless in protecting our store and will take action to stop fake reviews regardless of the size or location of those who attempt this abuse.”
A Google spokesperson 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.”