In direct response to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) increasing vigilance against fraudulent online activities, leading online platforms Amazon, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Glassdoor, Tripadvisor, and Trustpilot have banded together to create the “Coalition for Trusted Reviews.” The coalition is dedicated to preserving access to reliable consumer reviews on a global scale. Its primary mission is to tackle the growing problem of counterfeit online reviews that have plagued e-commerce for years.
Fraudulent reviews are often driven by merchants or brokers who use various channels, such as social media platforms and encrypted messaging apps, to solicit fake customer reviews in exchange for financial incentives or free products. These deceptive practices can not only mislead consumers but also damage the reputation of honest businesses and competitors through false negative reviews.
The FTC’s Stricter Approach to Fake Reviews
Earlier this year, the FTC proposed a set of rules aimed at prohibiting businesses from creating or selling deceptive consumer reviews and testimonials. These proposed regulations aim to address the growing issue of counterfeit reviews by targeting practices such as selling or procuring fake reviews, “review hijacking,” compensation-driven reviews, insider reviews and testimonials, company-controlled review websites, illegal review suppression, and the sale of fake social media indicators. These steps indicate the FTC’s intent to bolster enforcement against deceptive online practices.
Per the FTC, the proposed rule could prohibit things such as:
- Selling or Obtaining Fake Consumer Reviews and Testimonials: The proposed rule would prohibit businesses from writing or selling consumer reviews or testimonials by someone who does not exist, who did not have experience with the product or service, or who misrepresented their experiences. It also would prohibit businesses from procuring such reviews or disseminating such testimonials if the businesses knew or should have known that they were fake or false.
- Review Hijacking: Businesses would be prohibited from using or repurposing a consumer review written for one product so that it appears to have been written for a substantially different product. The FTC recently brought its first review hijacking enforcement action.
- Buying Positive or Negative Reviews: Businesses would be prohibited from providing compensation or other incentives conditioned on the writing of consumer reviews expressing a particular sentiment, either positive or negative.
- Insider Reviews and Consumer Testimonials: The proposed rule would prohibit a company’s officers and managers from writing reviews or testimonials of its products or services, without clearly disclosing their relationships. It also would prohibit businesses from disseminating testimonials by insiders without clear disclosures of their relationships, and it would prohibit certain solicitations by officers or managers of reviews from company employees or their relatives, depending on whether the businesses knew or should have known of these relationships.
- Company Controlled Review Websites: Businesses would be prohibited from creating or controlling a website that claims to provide independent opinions about a category of products or services that includes its own products or services.
- Illegal Review Suppression: Businesses would be prohibited from using unjustified legal threats, other intimidation, or false accusations to prevent or remove a negative consumer review. The proposed rule also would bar a business from misrepresenting that the reviews on its website represent all reviews submitted when negative reviews have been suppressed.
- Selling Fake Social Media Indicators: Businesses would be prohibited from selling false indicators of social media influence, like fake followers or views. The proposed rule also would bar anyone from buying such indicators to misrepresent their importance for a commercial purpose.
The Formation of the Coalition for Trusted Reviews
The industry coalition was established during the FTC’s comment period on the proposed regulations. The Coalition for Trusted Reviews emphasizes its commitment to maintaining the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability. Through a collaborative approach, they aim to set new benchmarks for ensuring the authenticity of reviews and fostering trust among global consumers. Their key initiatives include:
- Industry Alignment: The coalition is working on industry-wide standards and definitions for what constitutes a fake review, as well as content moderation terminology and measurement metrics.
- Best Practice Sharing: Coalition members are defining best practices for hosting online reviews and sharing updated content moderation processes and methods for detecting fake reviews.
- Information Sharing: The coalition is collaborating to share insights into the tactics used by companies that sell fake reviews to businesses seeking to manipulate their online reputations.
- Advocacy: The coalition intends to engage with academics and public policy leaders to underscore the benefits of authentic review content for consumers and support effective industry efforts in combating fake reviews.
Initial Coalition Members Speak Out
The coalition brings together major players in the online industry, including Amazon, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Glassdoor, Tripadvisor, and Trustpilot, to address the pressing issue of deceptive online practices. Their representatives expressed their dedication to maintaining trust and authenticity in online reviews:
- Amazon: Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s Vice President of Worldwide Selling Partner Services, emphasized the importance of customer reviews. He stated, “The goal of this coalition is to ensure every review reflects customers’ actual experiences.” Amazon has been actively fighting fake review brokers to protect both customers and selling partners.
- Booking.com: Spencer Mott, Chief Security Officer at Booking.com, highlighted their commitment to credibility. “From machine learning fraud detection models to custom-made tooling for our teams of experienced moderators, we are continuously enhancing our efforts,” he said.
- Expedia Group: CJ Allen, Vice President, Marketplace Experience & Trust, Expedia Group, noted the significance of authentic reviews in the travel industry and mentioned their utilization of technology and human validation to maintain trust.
- Glassdoor: Cara Barry, Glassdoor’s Director of Content and Community, expressed their dedication to evolving technological and human review processes to prevent fake reviews. She looks forward to closer collaboration with industry partners to create frameworks for mitigating fake reviews.
- Tripadvisor: Becky Foley, Vice President of Trust & Safety at Tripadvisor, reaffirmed the coalition’s commitment to protecting trust in the platforms and businesses. She stressed their focus on countering operators selling fake reviews to companies looking to enhance their online reputation.
- Trustpilot: Carolyn Jameson, Chief Trust and Consumer Officer at Trustpilot, emphasized the importance of reviews in building consumer trust and the need for greater collaboration in fighting fake reviews.
The catalyst for this coalition’s establishment is the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) escalating efforts to curb fraudulent online activities, particularly in the realm of fake reviews. The FTC’s proposed rules aim to tackle various aspects of this problem, including selling or obtaining fake consumer reviews, review hijacking, buying positive or negative reviews, insider reviews and testimonials, company-controlled review websites, illegal review suppression, and the sale of fake social media indicators. These proposed regulations underscore the FTC’s determination to strengthen its enforcement actions and safeguard consumers from misleading information.
The Coalition for Trusted Reviews recognizes the importance of trust and authenticity in consumer reviews. By working collaboratively, the coalition intends to create industry-wide standards and definitions for fake reviews, share best practices for hosting online reviews, exchange information about detecting fake reviews, and engage with academics and policymakers to advocate for genuine review content. These efforts represent a commitment to ensuring consumers can rely on the reviews they read to make informed purchase decisions.
The FTC’s stringent stance and the coalition’s proactive approach reveal a growing awareness of the negative impact of fake reviews on both consumers and honest businesses. As fraudulent review practices have become more sophisticated and pervasive, it is crucial for industry leaders to take collective action to combat this issue.
While the coalition’s exact role, whether it is primarily a public relations move or a lobbying organization, remains to be seen, its formation is a promising step toward addressing the challenges posed by fake reviews. This collaborative approach may set new industry standards and provide consumers with more reliable information when making purchasing decisions.
The increased scrutiny and joint actions signal a shift towards greater transparency and authenticity in the online review ecosystem, which should ultimately benefit both consumers and businesses that rely on fair and honest feedback. The success of these initiatives will depend on the commitment of industry leaders, the effectiveness of regulations, and continued vigilance against fraudulent practices.