The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken a significant step in its fight against review fraud by proposing a new rule that would ban fake online reviews.

The rule seeks to address the persistent issue of fake reviews and review abuse on platforms such as Amazon, Google and Yelp. The FTC’s proposed measures include prohibiting the buying or selling of fake reviews, suppressing negative reviews and the practice of “review hijacking.”

The rule aims to prevent company insiders from leaving undisclosed reviews of their own products or services.

The FTC is an independent agency of the US government whose principal mission is to enforce civil antitrust law and promote consumer protection.

Fake reviews and review abuse plague online platforms

Fake reviews and review abuse have been a long-standing problem for online platforms, particularly Amazon, Google and Yelp. Unscrupulous actors often rely on fake reviews to manipulate search results and boost the visibility and sales of their products.

In some cases, companies resort to “review sabotage” by paying users to leave negative reviews on their competitors’ products.

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This unethical tactic undermines the integrity of online reviews, deceives consumers seeking genuine feedback and disadvantages honest businesses.

Addressing review fraud and the rise of AI-generated reviews

Recognising the growing prevalence of review fraud, the FTC has intensified its efforts to combat this deceptive practice. It has taken legal action against companies that employ fake reviews and block negative feedback, emphasising the negative impact on consumers and honest businesses.

The proposed rule acknowledges the potential for bad actors to leverage generative artificial intelligence (AI) to create even more convincing fake reviews.

This emerging trend poses new challenges in detecting and preventing review fraud.

Next steps: public comment period and final decision

While the proposed rule is a significant step forward, it is not immediately enforceable. The FTC has established a 60-day public comment period to gather input and feedback from stakeholders.

The agency will review the comments received and may revise the rule accordingly. Following this period, the FTC will vote on the final version of the proposal, taking into consideration the public’s input.

If approved, the rule would impose civil penalties on violators, helping to level the playing field for honest companies and protect consumers from deceptive practices.

By proposing this new rule, the FTC aims to curtail the prevalence of fake online reviews and ensure that consumers can make informed decisions based on genuine feedback.