The United Kingdom recently proposed regulations making it illegal to write and commission bogus reviews. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued new recommendations warning companies against “misleading” review displays and soliciting feedback from people who are inclined to appreciate them. They also claim that businesses must treat both favorable and bad feedback equally. Officials from the agency are also collaborating with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority to investigate online reviews on sites like Amazon and Google. While much of the focus has been on the issue of fake reviews, experts say sellers are distorting customer perception in other ways as well. These include displaying reviews to their advantage, selectively demanding comments, and – in extreme cases – hiding negative feedback entirely.

The potential for difficulties and conflicts of interest has expanded as more companies feature reviews on their own sites and actively collect them to assist sales on other platforms. “Many companies start with an honest agenda, which is to remove fake negative reviews… but when they do it, it becomes a slippery slope,” says Prof. Bin Gu of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. “It’s very hard to know when to stop.” Some consumers, though, have already experienced losses. According to surveys, nearly 90 percent of customers consult product reviews to help them make decisions. “We live in a time with a real lack of trust,” says consumer Nathaniel Fuentes. “Before, it used to be something that was really easy to say, ‘Hey – it’s a high review. I can go buy it.’ Now it’s kind of muddied.”