Amazon pushes back on crackdown on fake reviews

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Amazon has pushed back on plans that would force websites to crack down on fake reviews, as the government tries to crack down on paid scam reviews.

The online retail giant said ministers should exercise “caution” when crafting laws to hold sites to account when they host fake reviews.

It comes as the company, which has long struggled with a tidal wave of vendors seeking to manipulate its review systems, is being investigated by competition watchdogs over the issue. .

In response to a government consultation, Amazon said it supports proposals to make it illegal to pay for fake reviews and wants “targeted intervention”. But the company warned of a “one size fits all” requirement that sites take “reasonable and proportionate steps” to verify their authenticity.

“When taking steps to combat fake reviews, care must be taken so that customer reviews are not overly censored. The freedom of consumers to express their opinions, good or bad, must be protected,” he said.

Ministers said last month they planned to make it illegal for companies to pay people to write fake reviews, and that sites would have to take steps to verify reviews. The government is consulting on changing consumer protection regulations to include false reviews and giving the Competition and Markets Authority the power to enforce the law rather than forcing consumers to go through the courts.

The growth of Amazon and the increase in the number of third-party merchants competing for supremacy in its search results has led to a thriving industry of fake reviews.

It has sued bogus review brokers and won legal orders shutting them down, but consumer activists say some product categories remain plagued by inauthentic reviews.

The consumer magazine which revealed last month that nine of the 10 highest-rated Bluetooth headphones on Amazon were boosted by reviews of other products, whose pages had been merged with those of the headphone seller in a bid to improve search rankings.

The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating Amazon and Facebook, fearing they are not doing enough to tackle fake reviews on their sites.

Amazon says it devotes significant resources to cracking down on fake reviews and that ensuring customer trust is paramount. Its automated systems remove hundreds of millions of fake reviews every year.

The company told the government it wanted to see a clearer explanation of what “reasonable and proportionate measures” would mean to tackle fake reviews.

Five-star reviews and glowing recommendations are essential for sellers looking to succeed on Amazon, as they are believed to place them higher in the website’s search results and can mean their products receive the “Amazon’s Choice” label which can boost sales.

Last week, the company revealed its slowest sales growth in 21 years and revealed that revenue from its core retail business was down.

Amazon shares fell 14% on Friday, knocking more than $200bn (£159bn) from the company’s value on its worst trading day since 2006.

The company also suffered its first quarterly loss since 2015 due to a writedown of its stake in electric car company Rivian.

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