(CNN) – It’s a common scenario: A consumer visits Amazon or some other giant e-commerce marketplace looking for a new pair of headphones or a wireless speaker or some other piece of tech. They know what they want, but not exactly what they want, so they take a look at product reviews to help make their decision.
It seems like a pretty egalitarian process, but a new investigation by a British consumer education group, called Which?, found a lot of tech categories on Amazon are flooded with products from virtually unknown brands, all boosted by product reviews that appear to be fake.
The Which? investigation dug into the lineup of cameras, smart watches, headphones, fitness trackers and other small tech items offered on Amazon and unearthed some fishy details:
- Some of the top-rated brands in different categories were brands tech experts had never heard of, like Ktaoism, Gejin, ZagZog and Vogek.
- A bulk of the reviews on questionable products were from unverified purchasers. (In an effort to combat the widespread problem of fake product reviews online, Amazon has a “Verified Purchase Review” program, where the company indicates what reviews are written by people who actually purchased the product and did so without significant discount or incentive from the seller. Unverified reviews can still be published, but don’t bear Amazon’s seal of approval.)
- Of these unverified reviews, a significant portion of them were perfect 5-star reviews.
- Thousands of reviews appeared for just a few products from these unknown brands, which according to Which? is an “an easy-to-find red flag.”
- Finally, large floods of these unverified, unanimously perfect reviews “arrived on a product listing on the same day, or in a short space of time,” according to Which? “This sort of activity often involved duplication or repetition of reviews. We even found instances of positive reviews for entirely different products appearing on a listing.”
Fake reviews are a big problem for basically any online marketplace or service that relies on them to create a consumer-driven decision experience. E-commerce giants like Alibaba have had to create solutions for fake reviews that disproportionately push products into buyers’ recommendations. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor sometimes run into a slightly different issue when reviews are skewed by targeted campaigns designed to hurt a business. So the reviews aren’t necessarily fake or artificially generated, they’re just made in bad faith.
As for Amazon’s review problem, which goes far past tech products, the fakery can happen a few different ways: Some of the reviews are artificially generated or repeated, as Which? mentions in their investigation. Others are planted there by paid reviewers.
CNN has reached out to Amazon for comment. “Even one inauthentic review is one too many,” the company told Which? “We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.”