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Coronavirus: Regulator investigates misleading online reviews

Lianna Brinded
·Head of Yahoo Finance UK
·2-min read
Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Regulator Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into potential misleading online reviews amid a surge in people using websites to do their shopping during the lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The CMA said it will be looking into several major websites to see whether they are doing enough to protect shoppers from fake and misleading reviews. The watchdog did not name the websites and is not currently alleging that any website has acted illegally.

It says that it just 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.”

“Most of us read online reviews to help decide which products or services to buy. During lockdown, we’re more dependent than ever on online shopping, so it’s really important that the online reviews we read are genuine opinions. If someone is persuaded to buy something after reading a fake or misleading review, they could end up wasting their money on a product or service that wasn’t what they wanted,” said Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: UK retail sales suffered record-breaking fall in April

“Our investigation will examine whether several major websites are doing enough to crack down on fake reviews. And we will not hesitate to take further action if we find evidence that they aren’t doing what’s required under the law.”

If the CMA finds that any of these websites are not doing what is legally required, it will take enforcement action — but it did not specify what those actions would look like.

British retail sales cratered by 18.1% in April from March — the biggest fall since records began in 1988 — due to the impact from the coronavirus pandemic. But online sales in various areas have substantially risen in response to people not leaving their homes.

The CMA has already “secured commitments” from Facebook-owned (FB) Instagram to tackle the risk that people can buy and sell fake online reviews through its platform.

“Instagram has committed to provide for more robust systems to detect and remove this kind of harmful material from Instagram,” confirmed the regulator.

“This builds on the CMA’s previous work on online reviews, where it identified the trading of of fake reviews on Facebook and eBay (EBAY) and secured commitments from them to tackle this issue. The CMA is not alleging that Facebook, eBay or Instagram intentionally allowed this content to appear on their websites.”