The Continuing War on Fake Reviews

2021 will likely see the majority of China’s retail sales come from online (52.1%), a historic first for any country. Although this far outpaces almost every other state (South Korea is next nearest with 28.9%), the global pandemic has only accelerated the already-unstoppable trend of online growth.

But as many markets move towards an “e-commerce” model, they will all have to confront the rising problem of online trust and fake reviews.

This week, a new report from consumer watchdog Which? has called on Google to clamp down on businesses purchasing fake reviews. According to the report, nearly 50 had been caught participating in such schemes.

“According to its investigation, gaps in Google’s review monitoring has left customers at risk of being misled by businesses, in some cases putting them at considerable financial risk.”

A Widespread Problem

This comes almost exactly two years since Which? demanded Amazon do the same, slamming the online giant for hosting thousands of fake 5-star reviews on popular tech items. In September of last year, an investigation by The Financial Times found that many of the site’s top reviewers were receiving thousands of pounds by offering fraudulent reviews in exchange for free products.

This problem isn’t isolated to the global tech behemoths. As the importance of online rises, so will the temptation to obtain the visibility and sales that top reviews impart.

A Review Arms Race

In response to the report, Google said:

“We invest significantly in building technologies and instituting practices that help people find reliable information on Google.”

For many of the larger markets, this seems to be a problem so vast in scope that the only realistic solution is a technological one. The next few years will likely see an escalating arms race, with marketplaces rolling out more sophisticated processes to combat the innovation and imagination of the scammers.

But, as hundreds of Americans who received mysterious seed packages in the mail last year have realised, the fakers still have plenty of tricks up their sleeve.