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For the first time, the US Federal Trade Commission has fined an organization for “review hijacking.” , the agency accused The Bountiful Company, maker of the Nature’s Bounty brand of vitamins, of deceiving consumers. Between 2020 and 2021, Bountiful abused a feature of Amazon to make it seem like some of its newer supplements had higher product reviews and ratings than they did in reality.
If you have ever bought something on Amazon, you’ve almost certainly interacted with the feature Bountiful attempted to game. Some listings include a set of icons that highlight different “variations” of that same product. For example, if you visit the page for Sony’s popular WH-1000XM5, the feature will highlight that the headphones are available in three different colors. By design, Amazon designed this feature to be narrow. Sellers are supposed to use it to showcase that a product they offer is available in a different color, size, quantity or flavor.
That’s not what The Bountiful Company did. According to the FTC, Bountiful used the feature to give newer products a boost from older, more well-established ones with different formulations. In one internal email the agency obtained, Bountiful lamented that “people did not love” one of its new vitamins but noted sales “spiked the second we variated the pages and they continue to grow.”
On Monday, the FTC it voted unanimously to approve a consent order that carries a $600,000 fine for Bountiful and bars the company from employing such tactics in the future. “Boosting your products by hijacking another product’s ratings or reviews is a relatively new tactic, but is still plain old false advertising,” said Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
“There’s no place for fraud in Amazon’s store. We have proactive measures in place to prevent listing abuse and we continuously monitor our store,” an Amazon spokesperson told Engadget. “Our policies prohibit reviews abuse including offering incentives like gift cards to write positive reviews. We suspend, ban, and take legal action against those who violate these policies and remove inauthentic reviews.”
According to Amazon, “more than 99 percent” of the products people view on its marketplace “contain only authentic reviews.” If you find what you think is a fake review, the company recommends tapping the “Report” button so it can investigate and take action. The spokesperson added Amazon would continue working with FTC and other enforcement agencies to combat fraudsters.