Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The FTC is targeting fake customer reviews in a bid to help real-world shoppers

People shop in The Galleria mall during Black Friday on November 26, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Brandon Bell
/
Getty Images
People shop in The Galleria mall during Black Friday on November 26, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

Those of us who shop online may scan customer reviews to get a better sense of products we can't judge for ourselves at a brick-and-mortar store. We may check out online testimonials before booking a haircut or visiting a new restaurant.

But what happens if some of those reviews can't be trusted?

The Federal Trade Commission announced Friday that it's proposing new measures to crack down on fake reviews and other practices used to mislead consumers trying to educate themselves about a potential purchase.

The commission published a proposed rule that would prohibit companies from writing or selling fake reviews, buying positive reviews, illegally suppressing negative reviews and more.

"Our proposed rule on fake reviews shows that we're using all available means to attack deceptive advertising in the digital age," Samuel Levine, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

"The rule would trigger civil penalties for violators and should help level the playing field for honest companies," Levine added.

Research shows people overwhelmingly consult online reviews before opening their wallet, but humans are also bad at telling which consumer reviews hold water and which are full of hot air.

That's potentially worrisome given that nearly one in every three reviews is fake, according to one estimate.

In arguing for the proposal, the FTC cited enforcement actions it had taken against companies that manipulated reviews of their products.

Last year, for example, the commission forced the online retailer Fashion Nova, LLC to pay $4.2 million to settle allegations that it blocked negative reviews from being posted to its website — the first FTC action involving a company's effort to hide negative reviews. For its part, Fashion Nova said in a statement to the New York Times that the FTC's allegations were "inaccurate" and that it only settled the charges to avoid "the distraction and legal fees."

The emergence of generative AI could also supercharge the proliferation of fake reviews across the internet, the FTC said.

Comments on the proposed rule have to be received within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register, after which the FTC will decide whether to issue a final rule.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.