The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is seeking to impose a prohibition on counterfeit reviews

FTC) is seeking to impose a prohibition on counterfeit reviews

If you’re tired of feeling uncertain about which online reviews to trust, there might be some relief on the horizon. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now aiming to impose penalties on companies involved in deceptive review practices. Under a new rule proposal, businesses could be fined up to $50,000 for each instance where customers encounter fake reviews.

Those brief, vague one-line reviews on Amazon listings that don’t appear genuine? They’re just one example of the fraudulent feedback that the FTC intends to combat. The proposed rule seeks to ban various forms of dishonest reviews and hold both the companies utilizing them and the brokers responsible for falsifying feedback accountable. This includes companies that buy or sell fake reviews, as well as those engaged in the trade of fake followers or social media views.

The rule also addresses “insider” reviews and testimonials, aiming to prohibit companies from posting reviews without proper disclosure from managers, employees, and even relatives of workers. Additionally, it targets “review hijacking,” a deceptive practice involving the repurposing of reviews from unrelated products, which the FTC took action against earlier this year.

In an April case, the FTC fined The Bountiful Company, responsible for Nature’s Bounty supplements, $600,000 for allegedly exploiting Amazon’s product variation feature. This feature allows sellers to group different variants of the same item into one listing that shares reviews. However, the FTC accused The Bountiful Company of misusing this feature by combining completely different products within a single listing, aiming to bolster the ratings of a lower-rated item by associating it with a higher-rated one.

The FTC also wants to tackle company-controlled review websites claiming to provide independent opinions while promoting their own products or services. For instance, this would prevent companies from creating supposedly unrelated websites that recommend their own products. The proposed rule also seeks to penalize companies that attempt to suppress negative reviews through intimidation or other methods.

Online platforms like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Yelp have been striving to combat fake reviews for years. However, with the increasing prevalence of generative AI, the problem is expected to worsen and become harder to control. The FTC acknowledges this in its proposal, highlighting that “the widespread emergence of AI chatbots is likely to make it easier for bad actors to write fake reviews.”

AI-generated reviews are already appearing on the internet. A simple search for “as an AI language model” demonstrates the extent of AI-generated content. While it’s a disclosure used by AI chatbots like ChatGPT, it can also appear in spammy content and sometimes in fake reviews that the poster didn’t bother to remove.

Samuel Levine, the director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC, stated, “Our proposed rule on fake reviews shows that we’re using all available means to attack deceptive advertising in the digital age. The rule would trigger civil penalties for violators and should help level the playing field for honest companies.”

Although the specifics of how the FTC plans to identify and penalize companies involved in fake reviews are not yet clear, the proposal has received approval from the FTC, and public comments are being considered before moving forward. Hopefully, this initiative will deter some of the low-quality fake reviews found online or perhaps inspire perpetrators to improve their tactics. After all, if we’re going to encounter fake reviews, they might as well be convincing.