Fake reviews probed by CMA

Published on 07 August 2020

What is the CMA’s investigation into misleading online reviews all about and what are websites doing to combat fake reviews?

The key takeaways

The CMA has launched an investigation into fake and misleading review content online and the steps taken by several major websites to combat this. Several websites have made commitments to combat fake reviews on their platforms. Examples of steps websites can take include: (1) removing fake and misleading review content and profiles that write those reviews; (2) updating community guidelines to make it clear such content is prohibited; and (3) implementing robust systems to flag and remove such content in the future. 

The background

The COVID-19 lockdown has caused consumers to rely on online shopping more than ever. The importance of genuine online reviews has increased accordingly. If a consumer decides to purchase a product or service online based on a misleading review, they could end up wasting their money and time on a product or service they did not want.

On 22 May 2020, the CMA launched an investigation into several major websites, to determine what steps they are taking to protect consumers from fake and misleading reviews. The investigation looked into issues including: (a) suspicious reviews; (b) the presentation of reviews; and (c) how reviews produced by reviewers who have been incentivised by payments or other benefits are handled. The investigation is set against the background of a wider programme tackling fake and misleading online reviews. 

Instagram made a commitment to the CMA to combat the buying and selling of fake reviews. By 22 May 2020, it had removed 76 profiles being used to “trade, or facilitate the trade” of fake and misleading reviews after the CMA flagged problems on its site. Last year, Facebook and eBay also gave similar commitments. 

The CMA is not the only entity seeking to combat the problem of fake reviews. Consumer group Which also looked into the practice of groups recruiting reviewers to write fake or incentivised reviews. Sellers offered free products in exchange for positive reviews on Amazon. 

Steps to consider

In advance of the CMA investigation results being published, a number of points can be distilled from Instagram’s commitment to the CMA to combat fake reviews. These may be applicable to other websites which allow users to post reviews. 

Instagram has committed to updating and revising its policy guidelines to clarify it prohibits fake and misleading content on its platform, taking down content which Instagram and the CMA has identified as misleading, and putting systems in place to remove offending material from its website in the future.

Why is this important?

The CMA has resolved to take regulatory action against websites which are not doing what is required of them under advertising laws to crack down on fake reviews. Its enforcement will seek to secure the necessary changes to be made by the website, pursuing action through the courts if necessary. 

Any practical tips?

Websites should remove fake and misleading review content on their platforms. This includes the removal of profiles used to trade, or facilitate the trade of, fake and misleading online reviews. 

Websites should also update their terms and conditions and community guidelines to clarify that they do not tolerate fake and misleading review content.
Given how hard the wind now seems to be blowing against all misleading content, the impetus on platforms to implement robust systems to detect and remove fake reviews (including via staff training) has never been greater. 

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