Most people know they shouldn’t believe everything they read on the internet, but it seems that the expanding volume of misinformation has finally drawn the eye of the competition authorities. Today the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced it is launching an investigation into fraudulent online reviews in a bid to ‘maintain trust.’
The probe will focus on three areas: fake reviews, the failure to publish some negative reviews and businesses paying for unlabelled advertorial content. The CMA says more than half of UK adults use online reviews before marking purchases, and 6% use blogs or ‘vlogs’ like Youtube videos.
‘We are committed to ensuring that consumers’ trust in these important information tools is maintained, and will take enforcement action where necessary to tackle unlawful practices,’ said the CMA’s senior director for consumer Nisha Arora.
The investigation is long overdue. A cursory look at a number of review websites often uncovers a number of dodgy looking entries that seem just a little bit too enthusiastic about a product or business. And companies disguising their adverts as genuine editorial content is a practice that threatens to undermine already patchy levels of trust in the media.
The CMA won’t say which businesses they are currently investigating, but the major players in the online reviews world say they welcome the investigation because it can help reassure consumers.
'TripAdvisor has been developing and refining its fraud detection process for more than 15 years, we fight fraud aggressively and our systems and processes are extremely effective in protecting consumers from the small minority of people who try to cheat our system,' said James Kay, a spokesperson for the world’s leading travel reviews site. 'We have sophisticated systems and teams in place to detect fraudsters, and we have strong penalties in place to deter them.’
‘Like with any emerging technology issues of security and privacy are never far away,’ added James Westlake, the UK VP of online reviews site Trustpilot. ‘We take fraudulent use of our reviews website very seriously and are committed to rooting out and preventing misuse.’
If you’ve ever been the subject of a malicious review from a competitor then you might not be convinced, but the major review sites do have an incentive to root out wrongdoing. If consumers lose faith in them, they will go elsewhere. As for whether the investigation will bring about any substantial change though, only time will tell.