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Low trust in tech giants over online harms

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Two thirds of people don’t trust tech firms such as like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Google to protect them against online scams, dangerous products, and fake reviews.

Which? has launched a campaign for new laws to protect people from various online harms, after finding some marketplaces were selling dangerous products, with buyers misled by fake reviews.

The consumer champion says legislation is needed to protect consumers and make platforms legally responsible for harmful content on their sites.

Which? surveyed 2,000 UK adults and found that trust among consumers in the ability of tech giants like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Google to protect them from either scams, unsafe products or fake reviews is shockingly low. Two thirds (68%) of people said they have little or no trust that online platforms are taking effective steps to do so.

Which? has tracked these problems for several years and believes they are symptomatic of a broader issue – the failure of major online platforms to take enough responsibility. If left unchecked, this will likely lead to the problems consumers face online getting worse in years to come.

Dangerous products

Which? found that one in five (18%) respondents has bought an unsafe product that posed a health or safety risk from an online marketplace in the last year.

Alan Christopher, 46, told Which? he bought an ‘iPosible’ power bank from Amazon Marketplace but that shortly after receiving it, the power bank caught fire in his home.

He said: “This product could have killed me. It’s really worrying that these products are making their way into people’s homes and are still being sold despite having such a serious issue. It has made me distrustful of buying from Amazon.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Last year, Amazon invested more than $700m and employed more than 10,000 people to protect our customers from fraud and abuse. We are relentless in our efforts to innovate and have built robust programmes and industry-leading tools to ensure products are safe and compliant and to protect the integrity of customer reviews. We want customers to shop with confidence and if a customer ever has a concern, they can contact customer service and we will investigate.”

Financial scams

Meanwhile, 8% of survey respondents said they had been the victim of a scam as a result of using an online platform. For scam victims, the knock-on effects were severe, with half (51%) saying it was negative for their financial situation, a third (33%) saying it negatively impacted their mental health, and a quarter (23%) saying falling victim to the scam impacted their physical health in a negative way.

One respondent, in his 70s, lost more than £20,000 in an investment clone scam last year. After a Google search for the ‘best rate of interest for savings of £15,000’, he clicked on what he believed to be a legitimate website, and filled in his personal details. He was then contacted by a fraudster posing as a Standard Chartered bank employee. The fraudster convinced David to deposit his life savings and he has not yet received a refund.

A Google spokesperson said: “Protecting consumers and legitimate businesses operating in the financial sector is a priority for us. We have been working in consultation with the FCA for over a year to implement new measures and having now launched further restrictions requiring financial services advertisers to be authorised by the FCA with carefully controlled exceptions, we will be vigorously enforcing our new policy.”

Fake reviews

Nearly nine in 10 (89%) respondents to Which?’s survey said they use online customer reviews to inform product purchases or choice of services.

However just 6% of people trust ‘a great deal’ that online platforms like Amazon and Facebook are taking effective steps to protect consumers from fake reviews. Three times as many (18%) do not trust ‘at all’ that they are taking effective steps.

About four in 10 (41%) people admitted finding it difficult to work out if customer reviews were genuine and had been left by a real customer. Just one in six (17%) said they found it easy to do so.

Just Not Buying It

Which? has launched its #JustNotBuyingIt campaign to make tech firms take responsibility for the harms taking place on their sites. It says that platforms not having enough legal responsibility allows unscrupulous individuals or businesses and criminals to sell unsafe products, mislead consumers and target potential scam victims with ease, causing serious harm to consumers and undermining trust in digital commerce.

The consumer champion says that despite having sophisticated technology, the voluntary solutions put forward to date to tackle these problems by the major online platforms have been inadequate.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “Millions of consumers are being exposed every day to scams, dangerous products and fake reviews. The world’s biggest tech companies have the ability to protect people from consumer harm but they are simply not taking enough responsibility.

“We are launching our new #JustNotBuyingIt campaign because it is time to stop just asking these platforms to do the right thing to protect consumers – instead the government and regulators must now step in and make them take responsibility by putting the right regulations in place.”