Facebook and eBay have been ordered to take “urgent action” to stop fake online reviews that are increasingly being used by companies to deceive customers.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said on Friday it had found “troubling evidence” of a thriving marketplace for fake and misleading online reviews.
After spending the last eight months looking for evidence, the CMA said it had unearthed more than 100 listings on eBay from firms and individuals offering fake reviews for sale.
It had also identified 26 Facebook groups where people offered to write fake reviews to order, or businesses recruiting people to write fake and misleading reviews for popular shopping and review sites.
Having great online reviews can make or break a business and companies spend huge sums creating and managing their feedback.
In October 2018, Which? said two large Facebook groups, plus some smaller groups, may between them have up to 87,000 members potentially engaged in writing fake reviews.
Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said he did not believe that Facebook or eBay are intentionally allowing this content to appear on their websites but he warned they must do more to prevent it appearing.
“Lots of us rely on reviews when shopping online to decide what to buy. It is important that people are able to trust that reviews are genuine, rather than something someone has been paid to write.
“Fake reviews mean that people might make the wrong choice and end up with a product or service that’s not right for them. They’re also unfair to businesses who do the right thing.”
Both companies have been told to conduct an urgent review of their sites to prevent the activity.
It is estimated that more than three-quarters of UK internet users consider online reviews when choosing what to buy. Billions of pounds of people’s spending is influenced by reviews every year. The use of fake and misleading reviews not only leads to poor choices, it is also illegal under consumer protection law.
Facebook has informed the CMA that most of the 26 groups have been removed.