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As the Scottish National Party (SNP)Consumer Spokesperson I am proud to support the Which? campaign #JustNotBuyingIt for new laws to protect people from an epidemic of scams, dangerous products and fake reviews online – as new evidence from the consumer champion shows tech giants are failing to adequately protect their users.

Urgent government action is needed to make online platforms legally responsible for the harmful content on their sites that leaves people seriously exposed to financial, emotional and even physical harm.

A Which? survey of 2,000 UK adults, shows 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 - with two thirds (68%) of people saying 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.

There are also worrying indications of the presence of these issues on online platforms and the negative impact they have on victims.

One in five (18%) respondents reported having bought an unsafe product that posed a health or safety risk from an online marketplace in the last year.

A fifth (21%) said a product they had bought from Amazon Marketplace presented a health or safety risk and one in six (16%) who had bought a product from eBay reported this happening too.

Eight per cent 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 even impacted their physical health in a negative way.

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 six per cent 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.

Around four in 10 (41%) people admitted to finding it difficult to work out if customer reviews are genuine and have been left by a real customer that truthfully describes their experience with the product or service. Just one in six (17%) said they found it easy to do so.

Which? investigations over the last two years have exposed a flood of harmful content, including scams, dangerous products and fake reviews, making its way onto the biggest online platforms. Tech giants have put measures in place to protect consumers but Which? research has repeatedly found evidence that suggests these problems are continuing on an industrial scale.

Which? has launched its new #JustNotBuyingIt campaign to make tech firms take responsibility for the harms taking place on their sites. 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.

Powerful tech companies often profit from this harmful activity - whether via investment adverts paid for by criminals or sales of unsafe products boosted by fake reviews - and the lack of a legal framework means they lack sufficiently strong incentives to shut down these practices.

Despite having some of the most sophisticated technology known to man, the voluntary solutions put forward to date to tackle these problems by the major online platforms have been inadequate.

It is high time the UK Government gave regulators and other bodies the powers they need to make online platforms take responsibility for the serious consumer harms on their sites.

That is why I am supporting the #JustNotBuyingIt campaign. 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.

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.


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