Online retailer Amazon is to take legal action against more than 1,000 people suspected of posting fake product reviews on its website.
Amazon’s brand is being damaged by "false, misleading and inauthentic" reviews paid for by sellers to lure buyers, the firm said in a lawsuit filed in Seattle, Washington.
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"Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping defendants and uprooting the ecosystem in which they participate," the lawsuit says.
The company allows anyone to review products sold on its website – but the rules specifically forbid paid-for reviews.
The move came six months after Amazon filed lawsuits against four firms that allegedly paid people to produce reviews posted on Amazon’s website, reports the BBC.
Amazon wants to eradicate paid-for reviews because the company believes they undermine the value of the review system.
The online retailer’s latest lawsuit is aimed at 1,114 individuals suspected of posting mostly five-star reviews for a fee of $5 on the professional services broking website Fiverr.com, which is working with Amazon to resolve the matter.
Amazon is reportedly seeking Fiverr’s help in establishing the real identity of those targeted by the lawsuit, which currently lists all the defendants as “John Doe”.
"The challenge of merchants soliciting illegitimate reviews is one that faces all marketplaces and online platforms," Fiverr said.
"In fact, in our own marketplace we restrict reviews to only those who we can verify have actually purchased a service."
Growth in bogus review market
Amazon said the lawsuit follows an investigation that included purchasing fake reviews on Fiverr from people who promised five-star ratings.
According to Amazon, fake review sellers attempted to avoid detection by using multiple accounts from unique IP addresses.
“Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping defendants and uprooting the ecosystem in which they participate,” the company said in the lawsuit.
In a report published in June 2015, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said online reviews have been “distorted” by the growth of a “clandestine” market of bogus reviews, according to the Guardian.
The CMA report said reviews formed an important part of consumers’ decision-making, with 54% of UK adults reading online reviews.
According to the CMA, £23bn a year of UK consumer spending could be influenced by online reviews, across the six broad sectors it analysed.
Although several sites that publish reviews told the CMA they suspected 1% to 2% of all reviews of being fake, the exact scale of the issue of bogus reviews in the UK is unknown, according to the CMA.
“Given the clandestine nature of the fake reviews, it would almost impossible to arrive at a credible figure,” the CMA report said.