The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) has launched an investigation into fake and misleading reviews on several major websites. The CMA has said it will examine whether online shops are doing enough to protect customers as they turn to online shopping during the lockdown. The investigation will look at issues such as:

-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 investigation builds on the CMA’s previous work on online reviews, where it secured commitments from Facebook and eBay to tackle the issue of fake and misleading reviews. The CMA has now also secured commitments from Instagram, to tackle the risk that people can buy and sell fake and misleading reviews through the platform. Instagram has:  

-committed to updating and revising its policy guidelines by 31 July 2020 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; and

-agreed to put in place robust systems to detect and remove this kind of harmful material from its website in the future

The consumer group, Which? welcomes the CMA investigation and are providing further evidence to the CMA that they hope will prove useful in the next phase of its investigation. It expects the CMA to take appropriate action against platforms found to be falling short in their responsibilities to protect consumers.

The CMA wants to ensure that the sites have robust systems in place to find and remove fake reviews or reviews that mislead people about a product or business. It is not currently alleging that any website has acted illegally, but if it finds that any of these websites are not doing what is legally required, it 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.

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