Facebook and eBay have been warned by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to do more to tackle the sale of fake reviews on their platforms.
Fake reviews are illegal under UK consumer protection law.
The CMA said today that it has found “evidence of trouble” from a “thriving market for false and misleading online reviews.” Although he also writes that he does not believe that the platforms themselves are intentionally allowing such content to appear on their sites.
The regulator says it tracked content on eBay and Facebook between November 2018 and June 2019, finding more than 100 eBay listings offering fake reviews for sale during that time.
During the same period, it also identified 26 Facebook groups where people offered to write fake reviews or where companies recruited people to write false and misleading reviews on popular shopping and review sites.
The CMA cites estimates that more than three-quarters of UK internet users consider online reviews before making a purchase decision, with “billions” of pounds worth of spending on people who are influenced by such content. So the incentives that drive a market to exchange opinions for money are clear.
Commenting in a statement, CMA CEO Andrea Coscelli said: “We want Facebook and eBay to conduct an urgent review of their sites to prevent false and misleading reviews from being bought and sold online.”
“Many of us rely on reviews when shopping online to decide what to buy. “It is important that people can trust that the reviews are genuine, rather than something someone has paid to write,” he added. “Fake reviews mean that people can make the wrong decision and end up with a product or service that is not right for them. They are also unfair to companies that do the right thing.”
The regulator says that after he wrote to eBay and Facebook to inform them of his findings, They have both “indicated that they will cooperate”.
Facebook also told the CMA that “most” of the 26 groups it now identified have been removed.
The regulator says it expects sites to put measures in place to ensure all identified content is removed, and prevents it from reappearing.
At the time of writing a search on ebay.co.uk for “reviews”, returning sellers offering 5-star media reviews, 5-star Google reviews, and 5-star Trustpilot reviews are the top three results, one of which it was also a sponsored post:
Additional eBay listings included one offering “Freeindex Star / 1/2/3/4/5 Star Customer Service Review”, priced £ 10 and sold by a UK seller who has been a member of eBay since February 2011; a 5-star review “on Google” that the seller promotes with the line “Boost your business and get new customers”, at a cost of £ 2.69; a “100% positive FAST” review for £ 1; and five 5-star reviews on Google priced at £ 15, offered by a seller apparently in Portugal who has been an eBay member since March 2014.
A search of UK Facebook groups turned up multiple examples of closed groups where sellers appear to be requesting reviews, either in exchange for products and / or payments …
In search of a response to the CMA’s call for measures to combat the illegal trade in fake reviews, Facebook sent us the following statement, which is attributed to a spokesperson:
Fraudulent activity is not allowed on Facebook, including the sharing of false opinions. We have removed 24 of the 26 groups and pages that the CMA reported to us yesterday and we had already removed several of them before the CMA pointed them out to us. We know there is more to do, which is why we have tripled the size of our security and protection team to 30,000 and continue to invest in technology to help proactively prevent abuse of our platform.
An eBay spokesperson also told us:
We have zero tolerance for false or misleading reviews. We have informed the CMA that all the vendors they identified have been suspended. The listings have been removed. Listings like these are strictly against our illegal activity policy and we will act where our rules are broken. We welcome the CMA report and will work closely with them to review their findings.