CMA investigates fake and misleading online reviews

May 25, 2020

The Competition and Markets Authority has launched an investigation into several major websites to examine whether they are doing enough to protect shoppers from fake and misleading reviews.

In particular, it will examine how the websites currently detect, investigate and respond to fake and misleading reviews, including the following issues:

  • suspicious reviews – where, for example, a single user has reviewed an unlikely range of products or services;
  • whether businesses are manipulating the presentation of reviews about their products and services by, for example, combining positive reviews for one product with the reviews for another; and
  • how these websites handle reviews about products or services that the reviewer has received a payment or other incentive to review.

The CMA is not currently alleging that any website has acted illegally. Through its work, the CMA wants to ensure that the websites have robust systems in place to find and remove fake reviews or reviews that mislead people about a product or business. However, if it finds that any of the websites are not doing what is legally required, the CMA will take enforcement action to secure the necessary changes, pursuing action through the courts if needed. If appropriate, the CMA will identify the companies involved at this point.

The announcement comes as the CMA has secured commitments from Instagram, which is operated by Facebook, to tackle the risk that people can buy and sell fake online reviews through its platform. Instagram has committed to provide for more robust systems to detect and remove this kind of harmful material from Instagram. This builds on the CMA’s previous work on online reviews, where it identified the trading of fake reviews on Facebook and eBay and secured commitments from them to tackle this issue. The CMA is not alleging that Facebook, eBay or Instagram intentionally allowed this content to appear on their websites.

Instagram has:

  • committed to updating and revising its policy guidelines to clarify that it prohibits fake and misleading review content across its website;
  • taken down the content that the CMA had identified and brought to its attention;
  • removed similar content that it identified itself;
  • agreed to put in place robust systems to detect and remove this kind of harmful material from its website in the future.

Fake reviews are an unfair commercial practice under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/1977).