Online product reviews are becoming a battleground for modern AI

Online product reviews are becoming a battleground for modern AI

On the battlefield of online reviews, it’s AI versus AI.

Generative AI capable of spitting out human-sounding reviews is met by an AI trained to detect fake reviews. It’s the kind of clash that has implications for consumers and the future of online content.

Saoud Khalifah, founder and CEO of Fakespot, a startup that uses AI to detect fraudulent reviews, said his company has seen an influx of fake reviews generated by AI. Fakespot is working on a way to detect content written by AI platforms like ChatGPT.

The thing that’s very different today is that models are knowledgeable to the point where they can write about anything, she said.

Fake online reviews have been around as long as real online reviews, but the matter has taken on new urgency thanks to wider concerns about advanced AI technology that is now widely available on the internet.

After years of tackling the issue through case-by-case enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission last month proposed a new rule to crack down on fraudulent reviews. If passed, the rule would ban writing fake reviews, paying for reviews, withholding honest reviews and other deceptive practices, and imposing hefty fines on those who violate them.

But what is or isn’t a fake review is now less clear, and the technology to detect fraudulent reviews is still a work in progress.

We really don’t know that we have no way of knowing to what extent bad actors are actually using one of these tools and how much it may be bot-generated versus human-generated, said Michael Atleson, an attorney in the FTC’s Advertising Practices Division. It’s really a more serious concern, and it’s just a microcosm of the concerns that these chatbots are being used to create all kinds of fake content online.

There are some indications that AI-generated reviews are already common. CNBC reported in April that some Amazon reviews had clear indications of AI involvement, with many starting with the phrase, As an AI language model…

Amazon is among many online sellers who have been battling fake reviews for years. A spokesperson said the company receives millions of reviews every week and proactively blocked 200 million suspected fake reviews in 2022. The company uses a combination of human investigators and artificial intelligence to spot fake reviews, employing machine learning models that analyze factors such as user review history, login activity and relationship with other accounts.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that AI-generated reviews aren’t entirely against Amazon’s rules. An Amazon spokesperson said the company allows customers to post AI-generated reviews as long as they are genuine and don’t violate policy guidelines.

The e-commerce giant has also indicated that it may need some help. In June, Dharmesh Mehta, vice president of Amazon’s worldwide sales partner services, called in a company blog post for greater collaboration between the private sector, consumer groups and governments to address the growing problem of fake reviews.

The crucial question is whether AI detection will be able to fool the AI ​​that creates fake reviews. The first AI-generated fake reviews Fakespot tracked came from India a few months ago, Khalifah said, produced by what he calls fake review farms selling fraudulent reviews en masse. Generative AI has the potential to make their job much easier.

It’s definitely a tough test for these detection tools to pass, said Bhuwan Dhingra, an assistant professor of computer science at Duke University. Because if the patterns exactly match how humans write something, then you really can’t tell the difference between the two. I wouldn’t expect to see a detector pass the test with flying colors any time soon.

Several studies have found that humans are not particularly good at detecting reviews written by AI. Many technologists and companies are working on systems to detect AI-generated content, with some like OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, even working on AI to detect their own AI.

Ben Zhao, a computer science professor at the University of Chicago, said it is nearly impossible for AI to rise to the challenge of eliminating AI-generated reviews, because reviews created by bots are often indistinguishable from human reviews.

It’s a constant cat-and-mouse chase, but ultimately there’s nothing fundamental that distinguishes an AI-created content, he said. You will find systems that claim they can distinguish between human written texts and ChatGPT text. But the techniques behind them are all quite simple compared to the thing they are trying to achieve.

With 90% of consumers saying they read reviews while shopping online, this is a prospect that worries some consumer advocates.

It’s terrifying for consumers, said Teresa Murray, who heads the consumer watchdog office for the US Public Interest Research Group. AI is already helping dishonest companies spit out real-sounding, conversational-sounding reviews by the thousands in seconds.

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