Amazon may have invested over $500 million in tackling online fraud and abuse in 2019, but the platform’s woes don’t seem to end. Last week, the company deleted 20,000 reviews from its website after a Financial Times investigative piece found that the UK’s top reviewers had made a cottage industry of profiting from leaving positive reviews for products on websites like Amazon. In this case, the reviewers had given 5-star ratings to products from little known Chinese brands. Amazon previously had to remove thousands of ratings after a study by the University of Southern California and the University of California—the FT investigation was based on this—found around 2,500 groups promoting products, 80% of which were Chinese. The study also found that these reviews led to a spike in ratings, causing an increase in sales.
Although many web tools like FakeSpot and ReviewMeta are helping address some of these concerns by distinguishing between good and bad reviews and grading them on the genuineness, there needs to be a more concerted effort on the part of Amazon to address such issues. India’s approach of bringing these companies within the legal ambit and demanding they clean up their websites—the new e-commerce rules stipulate this—may be the tough approach needed, but e-commerce websites also need to rely more on technology and research. India has limited research in the field. One way for the government could be to engage e-commerce companies to fund research groups to expose such fraud, rather than acting post-facto and imposing fines on e-commerce players.