Britain to investigate whether Amazon, Google do enough to block fake reviews

TECHNOLOGY

U.K. to probe Amazon, Google fake reviews

Britain’s competition regulator started a formal investigation on Friday into whether Amazon and Google have done enough to prevent or remove fake reviews.

Along with regulators in the United States and European Union, the Competition and Markets Authority has stepped up its scrutiny of big tech firms in recent years.

The British regulator said it will gather more information to decide if the firms may have broken consumer law by taking insufficient action to protect shoppers. Both Google and Amazon said they were continuing to assist the CMA. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

CMA action last year over the trading of fake reviews resulted in Facebook, Instagram and eBay removing groups and banning individuals for buying and selling fake reviews on their sites.

Google said Thursday it would delay blocking tracking cookies on its Chrome browser following intervention by the CMA.

The CMA started its investigation into reviews in May 2020, focusing on the internal systems and processes of several platforms for identifying and dealing with fake reviews.

The regulator said it was also concerned that Amazon’s systems did not adequately prevent and deter some sellers from manipulating product listings, through, for example, co-opting positive reviews from other products.

The CMA said it has not reached a view on whether Amazon and Alphabet’s Google have broken the law.

However, if it concludes they have broken consumer protection law, the regulator can take enforcement action ranging from securing formal commitments to change the way they deal with fake reviews to escalating to court action.

Amazon said it would continue to assist the CMA with its inquiries. Google also said it would continue to work with the regulator.

— Reuters

TOURISM

1st cruise in 15 months to set sail from U.S.

The first cruise ship to board passengers at a U.S. port in 15 months is set to sail Saturday from the industry’s South Florida hub in a symbolic stride toward normalcy that will be watched closely by health experts as vaccines curb the coronavirus’s spread in the country.

Industry officials hope the Celebrity Edge’s voyage serves as a bookend for people for whom the gravity of the pandemic first hit home in the alarming reports last year of deadly outbreaks on crowded ships, guests quarantined for weeks, vessels begging to dock and sickened passengers carried away on stretchers at ports.

“We are excited to be part of that,” said Russ Schwartz, a Florida school principal who is honeymooning on the ship and is confident it will be smooth sailing. “Things have changed drastically. Back then we really didn’t know much about the virus. Cruises at that point weren’t prepared.”

Celebrity Cruises, one of Royal Caribbean Cruises’ brands, says at least 95 percent of those boarding the Celebrity Edge have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, in line with health requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the ship will run at a reduced capacity.

The stakes are high for cruise lines as they emerge from a
CDC-imposed shutdown that lasted 15 months. During that period, the three industry giants — Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International — have had to raise more than $40 billion in financing just to stay afloat without any revenue.

Collectively, the companies lost $20 billion last year and another $4.5 billion in the first quarter of 2021, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

— Associated Press

Also in Business

Southwest Airlines will increase its minimum wage to
$15 per hour and raise the pay of thousands of airport workers to ensure it retains sufficient staff and can attract new employees to support growth over the next two to four years. The move
will affect more than 7,000 employees and will take effect Aug. 1, the airline told employees Friday. Southwest declined to provide the total cost of the increases, which will benefit baggage and cargo handlers, workers who clean aircraft or deliver parts, reservations agents, customer service employees and others.

Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit will pay nearly $11.7 million to resolve claims that it overcharged customers who invested in unit investment trusts, a U.S. regulator said on Friday. The payout includes a $3.25 million fine and $8.44 million of restitution, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Merrill neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing in agreeing to settle. A unit investment trust, or UIT, lets people invest in a one-time public offering in a portfolio of securities, typically stocks and bonds.

A global dirty money watchdog said on Friday that it had added European Union member Malta to its “gray list” of countries under increased monitoring and kept Pakistan on the list despite its progress on tackling terrorism financing. The Financial Action Task Force also said that Haiti, the Philippines and South Sudan were added to its list and that Ghana had been removed after the country had made progress. The Maltese government had already flagged its inclusion on the list, which indicates deficiencies but has no legal repercussions, in a move that Prime Minister Robert Abela called “unjust.”

— From news services

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