Fake online reviews used as blackmail and badmouthing rivals
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product-reviewsThe murky world of online reviews has been exposed with some companies pay for their own reviews, ambush rivals with bad reviews or individuals threaten businesses with bad reviews in return for discounts or other freebies.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that 54% of UK adults used online reviews, and many found them valuable.

These were found on websites ranging from specialist review sites such as Tripadvisor and trusted trader schemes such as Checkatrade, to booking agents such as Expedia and retailers such as Amazon.

The competition authority estimated that £23bn a year of consumer spending was potentially influenced by online reviews.

However, it discovered cases which have been known as “astroturfing” – the practice of creating fake grass root reviews.

Among the potentially misleading cases, on unnamed sites, were:

  • Businesses writing fake reviews of themselves to boost their ratings on review sites compared with rivals
  • Firms writing or commissioning fake negative reviews to undermine rivals, for malicious reasons, or for personal gain
  • Review sites cherry-picking positive reviews
  • Sites allowing businesses to remedy negative reviews, that go unpublished, meaning a complete picture is not clear to review site users

Impartiality could be compromised by review sites’ need to make money through subscriptions, click-throughs, or selling reputation management services to businesses.

The CMA also researched the trade in endorsements on blogs and online publications which are paid for by businesses.

“We have seen examples of suppliers paying bloggers sums of between £100 and £500 in return for a blog post about a product or service, and up to £50 for a pair of tweets,” the report said.

“We have also heard of payment in the form of gifts, vouchers, tickets to events and, or, hospitality.”

In some cases, the payment was made clear in the blog, but in others it was not. An investigation had now been launched into these cases, although the CMA did not name any of the companies under the spotlight.

The CMA also researched the trade in endorsements on blogs and online publications which are paid for by businesses.

“We have seen examples of suppliers paying bloggers sums of between £100 and £500 in return for a blog post about a product or service, and up to £50 for a pair of tweets,” the report said.

“We have also heard of payment in the form of gifts, vouchers, tickets to events and, or, hospitality.”

In some cases, the payment was made clear in the blog, but in others it was not. An investigation had now been launched into these cases, although the CMA did not name any of the companies under the spotlight.

More information here:

Online reviews ‘used as blackmail’

Competition regulator to probe fake online reviews

Shoppers ‘duped’ by millions of fake online reviews

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