WASHINGTON, July 9, 2019 — Amazon may be profiting from the sale of products promoted by increasing numbers of fake ratings and reviews, raising concerns among lawmakers.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Tuesday discussing the potential harms of fraudulent ratings and reviews to both consumers and legitimate businesses.
Recent reports have found a significant spike in falsified Amazon reviews over the last year. During the first three months of 2018, only nine percent of reviews were from unverified purchasers, according to ReviewMeta.
By contrast, 58 percent of reviews posted to the platform during the first quarter of 2019 were from unverified purchasers. Of the 1.8 million unverified reviews posted to the platform during March 2019, 99.6 percent were 5-star reviews, skewing product rankings.
An investigation in April by consumer group Which? looked at indicators of inauthenticity such as thousands of unverified 5-star reviews being made on the same day to determine that Amazon “is losing the battle against fake reviews.”
Products with these fraudulent reviews not only dominate the front page of Amazon’s search results but are often labeled as “Amazon’s Choice,” lending them a legitimacy they do not deserve.
“Online reviews significantly affect consumers’ shopping decisions and it is important that Amazon proactively protect consumers from such misleading and harmful behavior,” Pallone and Schakowsky wrote. “The use of the ‘Amazon’s Choice’ label on these products is of particular concern because your company’s website promotes these products to consumers as ‘highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately.”
According to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News, unscrupulous sellers pay as much as $10,000 per month to manipulate Amazon search results in favor of their products.
“These fraudulent reviews can crowd out genuine comments and put honest sellers at an unfair disadvantage,” the representatives wrote. “Amazon can and should do more to protect consumers from these deceptive practices and we would like to better understand what measures your company is taking to address this issue.”
Pallone and Schakowsky have requested additional information from Amazon by July 30, including details about how the company identifies and prevents deceptive reviews, which product categories are the most affected by this problem, and how Amazon determines whether to label a product as “Amazon’s Choice.”
(Photo of Jeff Bezos by Seattle City Council used with permission.)