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UK competition watchdog launches investigation into fake review epidemic across Google and Amazon

Refuses to give tech giants a five-star rating

Google and Amazon are waiting to hear about their own five-star rating today after the UK's competition regulator announced it had opened a formal investigation into fake reviews on their platforms.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wants to know whether the online beasts have broken consumer law by taking "insufficient action to protect shoppers from fake reviews."

The move comes after an initial CMA investigation last May to figure out whether Google and Amazon have the right checks in place to handle this type of consumer fraud.

Now the competition watchdog has said it has "specific concerns" over whether "Amazon and Google have been doing enough" to spot and zap dodgy reviews, and hound persistent offenders.

A spokesperson for the CMA declined to give the body's own review of Google and Amazon's performance when asked how many stars they would give them.

Instead, the watchdog pointed us to the official line from CMA chief exec Andrea Coscelli, who said: "Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their money based on those recommendations. 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."

A spokesman for Amazon said the online giant will "continue to assist the CMA with its enquiries, and we note its confirmation that no findings have been made against our business."

A spokesman for Google chipped in: "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."

Last week, El Reg reported how Amazon blamed unidentified social media firms for failing to act against peddlers of fake product reviews.

A recent report [PDF] by anti-fraud biz Cheq said the rise and complexity of fake online reviews is costing the global economy $152bn each year. ®

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