FTC wants to make it harder to publish fake product reviews

Jul 1, 2023, 6:59 PM

In this April 17, 2019, file photo, online customer reviews for a product are displayed on a comput...

In this April 17, 2019, file photo, online customer reviews for a product are displayed on a computer in New York. (Jenny Kane/AP)

(Jenny Kane/AP)

(CNN) — The Federal Trade Commission proposed Friday a rule to rein in marketers who use fake reviews of products, and signaled the commission’s plans to use “all available means” to target such deceptive advertising.

It would ban fake reviews, suppressing negative reviews and paying for positive reviews. Violations may result in hefty fines.

“The rule would trigger civil penalties for violators and should help level the playing field for honest companies,” Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said.

Perfect ratings

Fake five- and four-star reviews are omnipresent on sites such as Amazon and Google, as are faux product endorsements. Amazon in particular has been dealing with fake reviews on its third-party marketplace for years, suing the administrators of Facebook groups who facilitated the purchase and sale of fake reviews.

Deceptive reviews became an even bigger issue during the pandemic, when bad actors were able to benefit from increased demand for e-commerce.

The FTC noted AI now makes it easier to even generate deceptive reviews.

The commission has taken strong enforcement action in the past on fake reviews, but said it might not be enough without civil penalty authority.

‘Hijacking’ positive feedback

Besides the banning of selling or obtaining fake reviews, under the new rule businesses also would not be able to “review hijack,” or repurpose a review that was actually written for one product to be used for another.

In February, the FTC said a vitamin marketer on Amazon, The Bountiful Company, would have to pay back customers $600,000 for review hijacking, in the first case of its kind.

Businesses also would not be able to offer any incentives for writing positive reviews and would prohibit company officers and managers from writing reviews without disclosing their roles. They also wouldn’t be able to make company controlled review websites or buy fake followers or views on social media.

A business would also not be allowed to threaten or intimidate you into removing a negative review, or suppress posting of them.

The FTC will accept public comment on the proposal for 60 days, after which the commission will reevaluate.

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FTC wants to make it harder to publish fake product reviews