flooded with false and misleading reviews Amazon is going on the offensive on many of its products, filing lawsuits against the administrators of what it claims is more than 10,000 Facebook groups used to manage those reviews and encourage people to post them.
In a lawsuit filed Monday, the retailer said it hopes to “identify bad actors” and remove fake reviews that its own technology and monitoring have yet to discover.
“Our teams stop millions of suspicious reviews before they’ve ever been seen by customers, and this lawsuit goes a step further to expose culprits on social media,” said Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s vice president for selling partner services. in a statement. “Proactive legal action targeting malicious parties is one of many ways we protect customers by holding adversaries accountable.”
The action is coming as the problem of misleading reviews continues to grow. False reviews artificially raise a product’s star rating (or lower a competitor’s rating), making it more attractive to casual shoppers. That can lead them to buy something that is substandard…or just junk.
The problem has become so widespread that a cottage industry has emerged that analyzes the reviews of a product and filters out those that may be fraudulent. Sites like ReviewMeta can help shoppers see that, for example, a product with a 4.4 rating on Amazon would probably only get a rating of 1.9 if it wasn’t artificially inflated.
Amazon accuses those responsible for the Facebook groups of encouraging people to write fake reviews in exchange for free products or money. One of the groups identified in the lawsuit is “Amazon Product Review,” which Amazon says had more than 43,000 members until Meta took the group down earlier this year.
Amazon has not disclosed the names of the individuals it is chasing or the names of other Facebook groups.
The move comes after a UK antitrust regulator launched an investigation last year into whether Amazon (as well as Google) has done enough to eliminate fake reviews. US lawmakers asked a similar question in 2019.
That same year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined a website that paid an employee to post reviews on Amazon.
Amazon says it has more than 12,000 employees who search its site for fraud and abuse (including fake reviews). In 2020, it proactively stopped more than 20 million fake reviews, it says.
Not all of the 10,000 groups listed in the suit are currently active. Amazon says they represent the total reported to Meta since 2020 — and at least half have already been removed.
The Facebook accounts targeted by the lawsuit may fix some of the fake reviews, but they won’t eliminate them all. If you’re concerned about an item’s star rating, especially after checking it out on a site like ReviewMeta or Fakespot, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
- Read the review, sort by newest. Not only will you get an idea of how the product is performing today, but you can also compare what recent users have to say. Note the patterns in the writing to see if they sound like a normal person would write. And give less weight to those who leave a star rating but no comments.
- Look beyond Amazon. This is especially worth it for larger ticket items. See if reviews on other sites, by professional critics and streamers on YouTube and other channels, match what you see on Amazon.
- Weigh verified reviews. A “verified purchase” on Amazon means that the company has been able to confirm that the reviewer actually purchased the product, giving more credibility to their opinion. However, they are not infallible. If you see any red flags, such as several misspelled words and poor grammar, proceed with caution.