Amazon and Google are being investigated by a UK regulator over fake reviews on their sites

Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

  • A UK regulator is investigating whether Amazon and Google have done enough to stop fake reviews.
  • The CMA said it’s looking into whether Amazon and Google have failed to protect shoppers.
  • Amazon recently urged social-media firms to help it prevent fake reviews on its site.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Britain’s competition regulator has opened a formal investigation into Amazon and Google over concerns the tech giants have not done enough to combat fake reviews on their sites.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Friday that it would now gather further information to determine whether the firms may have broken consumer law by taking insufficient action to protect shoppers from fake reviews.

The move comes after an initial CMA investigation, which opened in May 2020, and assessed several platforms’ internal systems and processes for identifying and dealing with fake reviews.

Read more: Amazon hunger games: retail giant forces employees to decide whether or not their colleagues on a last-chance performance plan get fired

The regulator said it was also concerned that Amazon’s systems had failed adequately to prevent and deter some sellers from manipulating product listings, through for example co-opting positive reviews from other products.

Some merchants are also buying fake reviews “in bulk” online, according to a February report by Which. One fake-review site offered 1,000 reviews for $11,000, while another said it could help Amazon sellers achieve the coveted Amazon’s Choice status within just two weeks. Some sites asked for free or discounted products in exchange for reviews.

Groups selling Amazon reviews have also popped up on social-media sites such as Facebook and Telegram. In a blog post last week, Amazon said that social-media firms needed to spend more money helping it root out “bad actors” who use their platforms to gather fake reviews.

Insider spoke to some of the fake reviewers in February, including one who had a product refunded after deleting a negative review she had left. Another compared the fake-review phenomenon to mystery shopping.

“Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their money based on those recommendations,” Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA, said.

“Equally, it’s simply not fair if some businesses can fake 5-star reviews to give their products or services the most prominence, while law-abiding businesses lose out.”

Amazon said in February that it prohibited the abuse of its review features by both sellers and reviewers. It suspends, bans, and takes legal action against accounts that violate these policies, it said, and it analyzes more than 10 million reviews each week.

It reportedly removed 20,000 product reviews in September after a Financial Times investigation suggested that some of the site’s top UK reviewers may have profited from leaving positive ratings.

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Google has offered the UK government full oversight of its plan to abandon third-party cookies in Chrome, which sent the ad industry into a tailspin

Sundar Pichai
Sundar Pichai’s Google has offered the CMA oversight of its plans to drop the use of third-party cookies.

  • Google has offered UK officials full oversight of its plans to ditch third-party cookies in Chrome.
  • The tech giant’s move to drop third-party cookies sent the ad industry into a tailspin last year.
  • The UK’s CMA could soon have the power to block Chrome changes for up to 60 days.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Google has offered UK officials full oversight of its plans to abandon the use of third-party cookies within its Chrome browser, as competition authorities around the world consider antitrust action against the move.

The tech giant’s plans to do away with third-party cookies, which help businesses target individual users, sent the advertising industry into a tailspin when it was first announced in January 2020 – no surprise, given Chrome is thought to make up almost two-thirds of web-browsing activity.

Third-party cookies allow advertisers to follow users around the internet, and target them with personalized ads. Without that option in Chrome, Google may be in a position to exercise greater control over the advertising market, offering ad products based around its first-party data collected from search, Gmail, YouTube, and app downloads, expected to come in the form of its still-in-development “Privacy Sandbox”. Few of Google’s peers and rivals in advertising can hope to match its data trove.

The plan has run into resistance from the ad industry, with Marketers for an Open Web, a consortium representing around 20 marketing firms, filing a complaint with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), demanding “long-term competitive remedies to mitigate” its dominance. The watchdog announced an investigation into the move shortly thereafter.

On Friday morning, the CMA announced it had “secured commitments from Google to address concerns” around its plans to do away with third-party cookies in Chrome, including: Increased transparency, substantial limits on how Google will use Chrome data for advertising, and agreeing not to discriminate against rivals in favor of its own advertising products.

Most significantly, Google offered the CMA a 60-day “standstill period” before it introduces any changes, during which the watchdog retains the option of reopening its investigation, should any issues arise.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach,” Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive said.

“That’s why the CMA is taking a leading role in setting out how we can work with the most powerful tech firms to shape their behaviour and protect competition to the benefit of consumers.”

James Rosewell, the Marketers for an Open Web founder , said the CMA’s intervention represented an opportunity for a “genuine privacy change”, rather than the changes that Google had “tried to shoehorn in through the backdoor.”

“I hope Google recognizes that it failed to engage with the industry: it lectured, rather than debated,” he told Insider. “Luckily, this provides them with an opportunity to come back to the table and think more carefully about changes moving forward.”

In a statement, Google legal director Oliver Bethell said the company had welcomed the CMA’s investigation into the company’s sandbox. Bethell said the tech giant had offered a set of commitments that were the result of “many hours of discussions with the CMA and more generally with the broader web community” around how the sandbox will be designed.

“The CMA is now asking others in the industry for feedback on these commitments as part of a public consultation, with a view to making them legally binding,” he said.

“If the CMA accepts these commitments, we will apply them globally.”

Are you a current or former Googler with more to share? You can contact this reporter securely using the encrypted messaging app Signal (+447801985586) or email (mcoulter@businessinsider.com). Reach out using a nonwork device.

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Apple faces yet another regulator investigation into whether its 30% App Store commission is unfair for developers, this time in the UK

apple tim cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook.

  • The UK’s competition regulator said on Thursday it has started investigating Apple. 
  • Apple charges developers a commission of up to 30% on purchases customers make via App Store apps.
  • Developers have complained the commission is unfair and anti-competitive.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Britain’s competition regulator said on Thursday it has opened an investigation into Apple after complaints that the iPhone maker’s terms and conditions for app developers are unfair and anti-competitive.

The probe will consider if Apple has a dominant position in the distribution of apps on its devices in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said.

Payment policies related to Apple’s App Store have for long drawn complaints from app developers. It charges a commission of up to 30% from developers on the value of transactions or any time a consumer buys their app.

The iPhone maker said it will work with the regulator.

“The App Store has been an engine of success for app developers, in part because of the rigorous standards we have in place – applied fairly and equally to all developers – to protect customers from malware and to prevent rampant data collection without their consent,” Apple said in a statement.

The company is also being investigated on similar grounds by the Dutch competition authorities, who are nearing a draft decision, Reuters reported last month.

Last year, the European Commission too had opened a probe into the iPhone maker over the App Store commission fee.

“Complaints that Apple is using its market position to set terms which are unfair or may restrict competition and choice – potentially causing customers to lose out when buying and using apps – warrant careful scrutiny,” CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said.

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