Fake online reviews are targeted by US regulators with proposed new bans

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators are seeking to crack down on fake reviews and other deceptive internet practices.

The Federal Trade Commission proposed a new rule on Friday that would prohibit paying for reviews, removing honest reviews, selling fake engagements on social media and more. Companies would also be prohibited from operating company-controlled websites that claim to be independent, and other deceptive practices such as “review hijacking”, which makes product reviews appear as if they had been written for very different products.

If the proposed rule is approved, after a 60-day public comment period, violators could face stiff penalties.

“Our proposed false reviews rule shows that we are using every means available to attack misleading advertising in the digital age,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, said in a statement. “The rule would trigger civil penalties for violators and should help level the playing field for honest businesses.”

In Friday’s notice of the proposed rulemaking, the FTC noted that it already considers false reviews and other deceptive actions to be illegal — but the new bans “could strengthen the deterrent against these practices,” allow for civil penalties and help secure financial compensation for the victims, the agency said.

According to researchers at the University of Southern California, Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles, estimates for the share of online reviews that are fake range from 4% to more than 30%. According to 2021 figures from the World Economic Forum and CHEQ, fake reviews impact some $152 billion in global spending each year.

In addition to the FTC’s efforts to combat fake reviews in the past — which include multimillion-dollar settlements with online retailers — more companies say they now take deceptive practices seriously. on line.

In July last year, for example, Amazon filed a lawsuit against the administrators of more than 10,000 Facebook groups which it accused of coordinating fake reviews in exchange for free money or products – and on Tuesday , the company announced four additional lawsuits “against fraudsters who attempt to mislead Amazon customers and harm Amazon business partners by facilitating false reviews.

Earlier this month, Google announced a lawsuit against a “bad actor” who posted more than 350 fraudulent Google Business profiles and attempted to boost them with more than 14,000 fake reviews, the company said.

Friday’s proposal from the FTC follows the agency’s November announcement to explore rulemaking.

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