Facebook and eBay have pledged to take greater action against the sale of fake and misleading reviews through their sites in response to pressure from the UK’s competition watchdog.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the two web giants have signed agreements to combat the issue, after it found “troubling evidence” that there is a thriving marketplace for fake reviews last year.
In response, Facebook removed 188 groups and disabled 24 user accounts, while eBay has permanently banned 140 users.
Facebook and eBay have signed up to agreements to better identify and combat the sale of fake reviews on their sites, following our action.
— Competition & Markets Authority (@CMAgovUK) January 8, 2020
The pair have agreed to better identify, investigate and respond to fake and misleading reviews in a bid to increase protection for online shoppers.
This includes a commitment to prevent this type of content from appearing in the future, with Facebook agreeing to more robust detection and removal systems, and eBay improving its existing filters to better identify and block offending listings.
The CMA has emphasised that it is not alleging that Facebook or eBay are intentionally allowing this content to appear on their websites.
“Fake reviews are really damaging to shoppers and businesses alike. Millions of people base their shopping decisions on reviews, and, if these are misleading or untrue, then shoppers could end up being misled into buying something that isn’t right for them – leaving businesses who play by the rules missing out,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli.
“We’re pleased that Facebook and eBay are doing the right thing by committing to tackle this problem and helping to keep their sites free from posts selling fake reviews.”
It is estimated that more than three-quarters of UK internet users consider online reviews when choosing what to buy.
This means billions of pounds of people’s spending is influenced by reviews every year.
Fake and misleading reviews not only lead to people making poorly informed choices and buying the wrong products, but they are also illegal under consumer protection law.
The CMA has also found new examples of fake and misleading reviews for sale via Instagram, which Facebook has committed to investigate.
An eBay spokeswoman said: “We maintain zero-tolerance for fake or misleading reviews and will continue to take action against any seller that breaches our user polices.
“We welcome today’s CMA report, as well as their acknowledgement of our ongoing enforcement work on this issue.”
The CMA’s action is part of a wider programme of work tackling the problem, which will include looking into the role of review sites.
A Facebook spokeswoman said: “Fraudulent activity is not allowed on Facebook or Instagram, including offering or trading fake reviews.
“While we have invested heavily to prevent this kind of activity across our services, we know there is more work to do and are working with the CMA to address this issue.”
Consumer charity Which? welcomed the move but warned that more needs to be done.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: “The regulator must now turn its attention to review sites which are losing the battle against fake reviews – with shoppers duped into buying shoddy goods and services which have been artificially boosted by unscrupulous sellers.
“The CMA needs to investigate how fake reviews are being used to manipulate online shoppers and take the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle this problem.”