Amazon and Google are under investigation due to concerns the tech giants have failed to do enough to protect their users from fake online reviews, reports the BBC. UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is now formally investigating the online shopping giant and Pixel-maker over “broken consumer law”.
Why are Amazon & Google being investigated by UK consumer law organizations?
After an initial (more general) investigation, CMA’s back on Amazon and Google’s case.
This is not the first time the CMA’s launching such an investigation. The first one – a more general examination of online firms and what they do to protect their customers from false reviews, took place last year. At the time, the CMA stumbled upon some more “specific” concerns regarding Amazon and Google, resulting in the current investigation, which focuses on the two companies.
The Competition and Markets Authority is the main “competition regulator” body in the United Kingdom. A non-ministerial government organization responsible for monitoring and strengthening business competition, the CMA works to prevent and reduce anti-competitive practices.The organization’s worries relate to whether the companies do enough to “detect fake and misleading reviews or suspicious patterns of behavior”.
A “fake review” is considered when users release reviews on the same range of products/businesses at similar times, while there’s no connection between those products/businesses, or simply when the review “suggests” that the reviewer has been paid or incentivized to write a positive review.
The CMA’s aim is to find out whether Google and Amazon actively monitor, investigate, and remove fake and misleading reviews. The protector is looking into the sanctions that are or aren’t placed on “fake” reviewers.
Court case: Warning shots
“Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their money based on those recommendations.”
Nothing has been confirmed just yet, as the investigation is underway – the CMA hasn’t concluded on whether Amazon and Google have broken the law (at least at this stage). However, if Amazon and Google are found guilty of failing to protect their users (when they could), the CMA could step in and take further legal action.
This “action” could be a formal commitment request from the big dogs to change their ways and become more active when it comes to dealing with fake reviews. If those expectations aren’t met, though, it could escalate “to court action.
A spokesman for Amazon said that the company devoted “significant resources to preventing fake or incentivized reviews from appearing in our store” and promised to continue to assist the CMA with its inquiries while making a point that no “confirmation… or findings have been made” against Amazon.
How trading fake reviews on the internet works, and who’s involved in it
The CMA is on the case, but it isn’t the only consumer law organization investigating Amazon… Which? is the other one.
Which? – a non-profit organization for protecting consumers, launched its own investigation on how fake reviews are traded on a massive scale. This looks into another piece of the puzzle – who’s behind the business of review manipulation that targets Amazon’s marketplace.
Which? signed up to 10 sites that offer “review manipulation services”, and found over 700,000 product reviewers across just five businesses; a website that claimed to have processed $8.9m of refunds organized on Amazon; review campaigns that claim to be able to achieve “Amazon’s Choice” status badge on products in 10-14 days; and even a website that sold contact and social media details for Amazon reviewers – which is basically a scarier version of app tracking.
AMZTigers sells individual (£13) and bulk packages starting at £620 for 50 reviews. Prices can go up to £8,000 for 1,000 reviews. In other words, that’s a serious business.
- A pair of Enacfire headphones that were being offered to reviewers for free instead of the usual £35 price on a review site, which had amassed 21,670 ratings and a 4.4-star customer score on Amazon.
- A free Lavolta Acer laptop charger that also came with a £3 payment for a review and had a coveted Amazon’s Choice endorsement.
- An Owkey-branded Samsung Galaxy A20e phone cover with 226 ratings and an Amazon’s Choice badge.
Which? shared the above-mentioned findings with Amazon, after which the Lavolta charger and Owkey phone had their “Amazon’s Choice” badge removed. However, the Enacfire headphones continued to go up in ratings in the following months.
The UK and some other European countries are known for strict consumer law regulations. For example, when purchasing a brand new iPhone from Apple in England and Wales, people are entitled to a 6-year consumer law warranty from the date of delivery. That’s five years for Scotland.
Under consumer laws in the UK, consumers are entitled to a free-of-charge repair and (depending on the circumstances) may be entitled to a replacement, discount or refund by the seller, of defective goods or goods which do not conform with the contract of sale. That’s on top of Apple’s own warranty.
If your product is defective or if it does not conform with the contract of sale, you can choose to make a claim under UK consumer law. Is it surefire that the claim will be approved? No. But, it’s much better than not having anyone to go to if your item does turn out to be defective and out of warranty.