Online shopping has become a common practice in recent years, and it has become increasingly important for customers to rely on product reviews to make informed decisions. As a result, online marketplaces like Amazon have created features that allow customers to rate and review products. However, it has become a growing concern that some companies are manipulating these features to deceive customers. For the first time, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed charges against a company for “review hijacking.”

The complaint, filed by the FTC on Thursday, alleges that the Bountiful supplement company manipulated product reviews on Amazon. Bountiful, which manufactures vitamins and nutritional supplements under the Nature’s Bounty and Sundown brand names, is accused of abusing an Amazon feature that allows products to be displayed in “variation” relationships. This feature allows similar products with minor differences to share reviews.

Bountiful is alleged to have merged its new products with different well-established products that had more ratings and reviews. By doing so, the company gave the impression that the new products were well-rated and established. The FTC’s complaint states that Bountiful manipulated Amazon’s variation relationships to deceive customers and unfairly compete with other companies.

The Bountiful Company is paying back $600,000 for manipulating product pages and deceiving customers, said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Levine added that “boosting your products by hijacking another product’s ratings or reviews is a relatively new tactic, but is still plain old false advertising.” The FTC’s action is expected to serve as a warning to other companies that engage in similar practices.

In an internal email, Bountiful stated that it created variations for products “to try and ramp them faster as they were NOT selling and we wanted to give them a little boost.” However, this action is in violation of Amazon’s policies and is considered false advertising by the FTC. Review hijacking not only deceives customers, but it also damages the reputation of honest sellers who rely on authentic product reviews to sell their products.

Online marketplaces like Amazon have been taking steps to address this issue, such as implementing review verification processes and algorithms to detect fake reviews. However, it is a complex problem that requires cooperation from both online marketplaces and companies to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of product reviews.

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