In a complaint with several paragraphs devoted to describing its own efforts to protect the integrity of the product review ecosystem, Amazon has sued over 11,000 Facebook groups that broker fake product reviews. As described in the complaint, filed in Washington state court, the defendants are alleged to have "created and managed [Facebook] Groups that encourage and enable unscrupulous sellers to compensate reviewers for fake reviews." The Groups, which Amazon alleges operate "plain sight," seek "verified purchase reviews," i.e., reviews from actual purchasers on Amazon. The reviewers are compensated by a "refund" of the purchase price or other payment.

According to the complaint and Amazon's press release about the lawsuit, defendants' practices not only hurt consumers who rely on product reviews for their purchasing decisions but also the small and medium sized businesses selling on Amazon "by creating an unfair playing field".

While Amazon may be playing a long and costly game of whack-a-mole, it's clear that it -- along with other major retailers -- has come under increased pressure to clean up its product review system. Regulators have shown, through guidance, warnings and enforcement actions, that protecting the integrity of product reviews is a priority. And while pursuing the administrators of 11,000 Facebook Groups may not be possible for the FTC, leaning on Amazon and others to do more certainly is. Indeed, Amazon was one of the 700 companies that received a Notice of Penalty Offense from the FTC, warning it of the substantial penalties it would face if found to be using fake reviews or misleading endorsements.

Amazon will undoubtedly succeed in getting many of these Groups shut down. The lawsuit also may help create a disincentive for others to form. But, although Amazon uses an army of employees to detect fake reviews and is "constantly innovating to improve its ability to identify and remove fake reviews," it will likely need new methods -- in addition to use of the legal system -- to protect the very product review ecosystem it credits itself with creating.