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Federal Court orders Amazon to turn over review, ratings docs to Competition Bureau

A new court order is requiring Amazon to hand internal records related to its review and ratings programs over to Canada's competition watchdog.
The Amazon logo is displayed at a Best Buy store in Pittsburgh on Jan. 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Gene J. Puskar

A new court order is requiring Amazon to hand internal records related to its review and ratings programs over to Canada's competition watchdog.

The court order issued by Chief Justice Paul Crampton earlier this week forces Amazon to give the Competition Bureau records prepared for senior management that delve into how star ratings, Amazon's Choice badges and bestseller labels are applied.

The order also requires the Seattle-based tech giant to provide information about verified purchase and top reviewer badges.

The labels and programs the bureau appears to be interested in often feature prominently on product pages and can carry weight with consumers trying to decipher how reputable a seller is or how much they can trust a review.

However, in recent years, online platforms have seen a spate of complaints from users challenging the authenticity of reviews and questioning how bestseller and similar labels are applied and whether they should be relied upon.

The Competition Bureau, meanwhile, has taken an interest in such features and in 2020 began an investigation into Amazon that was designed to uncover potential instances of "abuse of dominance" — activity that stops or substantially reduces competition in a market.

This week's court order deepens the bureau's work. On top of the records prepared for senior management, Crampton's Monday court order forces Amazon to provide the bureau with consumer complaints about its review and ratings programs.

Amazon will also have to release reports about product refunds and returns not passed on to third-party sellers, information about the costs of managing and moderating product reviews and records related to disciplinary action taken against third-party sellers, like warnings, removal of product listings, and instances where they were downgraded in search results.

Rounding out the documents ordered to change hands are records related to 124 users who have posted reviews on its platform.

When asked on Wednesday about the order, Amazon spokesperson Kristin Gable said in an email, “We continue collaborating with the bureau to share more about Amazon’s long-standing commitment to fighting fake or improperly incentivized reviews, both in Canada and globally."

Bureau spokesperson Marianne Blondin, meanwhile, said in an email that the organization's goal is to "determine if Amazon’s marketing practices raise concerns under the deceptive marketing provisions of the Competition Act."

When the bureau solicited information from the public about the Amazon investigation in 2020, it asked for information about past or present Amazon policies "which may impact third-party sellers’ willingness to offer their products for sale at a lower price on other retail channels, such as their own websites or other online marketplaces."

The bureau also wanted info on the ability of third-party sellers to succeed on Amazon’s marketplace without advertising on Amazon and efforts by the tech company that "may influence consumers to purchase products it offers for sale over those offered by competing sellers."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 12, 2023.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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