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A woman's hand holds a smartphone on her lap and gives it a 5-star rating; next to it, symbolic representations of customer reviews in 12 speech bubbles overlay the left half of the picture.
Customer reviews are helpful - but only if they are genuine Image: HAKINMHAN / shutterstock

Amazon, Booking and Expedia take action against fake reviews

It's no secret that customer reviews and testimonials are often fake or bought. This is how companies try to improve their reputation online in an unfair way. There is a large shadow market in which special agencies (fake review brokers) broker or simply fabricate such reviews in return for services such as discount vouchers.

The remedy so far has been apps and software products with artificial intelligence that recognise and filter out such fake reviews. Around three quarters of all online customers are guided by customer reviews when choosing services and goods. Background knowledge on reviews and rating systems can be found in our detailed article "Customer ratings on the internet".

Graphic of 6 speech bubbles with customer reviews and stars, with four above them red stamps with fake inscription
Fakes are rampant in ratings Image: VELvector & Mahmudul-Hassan / Shutterstock

A study by the analysis platform Fakespot showed in 2021 that around 42% of all Amazon reviews were manipulated. Even if this figure is too high, many buyers simply no longer trust the star ratings, and rightly so. The world's largest online retailer from Seattle is well aware of all this.

Amazon has now formed an alliance with the travel platforms Expedia Group, also registered in Seattle, and Booking Holding from Norfolk, USA. These world's largest OTAs (online travel agencies) are suffering, just like Amazon, from image damage due to corrupted or bogus user ratings.

These three American delegations combine a concentrated market power and are coming to Europe in early December to act as an alliance worldwide to protect trustworthy consumer reviews in general and thus their own image. The leading review platforms for travel, Tripadvisor, for online services, Trustpilot, and for job advertisements, Glassdoor, are also part of the alliance. Last October, these big players met in San Francisco to develop methods to detect fake user reviews on platforms. In the first step of this Coalition for Trusted Reviews, industry standards and definitions were developed and information was exchanged between the competitors in order to be able to act jointly and systematically against such fraudulent practices.

The accusation of doing practically nothing against fake reviews has been around for years. In 2019, the European Union updated an Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) that, among other things, protects consumers from misleading reviews. A market survey in the EU - a so-called "sweep" - revealed in 2022 that 55% of all websites do nothing about fake reviews. Countless warnings were issued and enforcement agencies (of the CPC) took website operators to task for doing something about it. The group around Amazon wants to meet in Brussels in early December to concretise further action. They are committed to the highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability and will work with academics and policymakers. After such big words, we as consumer advocates are naturally eager to see concrete action.

The fact that these are all American corporations meeting in Brussels shows two sides of the same coin. On the downside, that Europe lags behind in the leading online business as a mere customer region and cannot involve its own companies in this global initiative. On the other hand, on the front side, it shines that the venue Brussels as the source of the strict European consumer protection and data protection rules is not merely to highlight the global aspect of the effort, but rather that these protective mechanisms of the EU indirectly show their clear effect on the world market.

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