Amazon flooded by thousands of fake 5-star reviews, consumer watchdog group says

jetcityimage/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Tens of thousands of fake five-star reviews persist for consumer tech products on Amazon, according to a British consumer watchdog.

Which?, a group devoted to informed consumer choices in the United Kingdom, issued a report on Tuesday detailing the findings of its investigation into fake reviews on Amazon. The group found that headphones, particularly from "unknown" brands, had attracted thousands of fake reviews.

Which? searched Amazon for 14 different consumer tech products, including cameras, wearables and smartwatches, and discovered that "some appear to be far more heavily targeted by potentially fake reviews and ‘unknown’ brands — companies our tech experts had never heard of," the group said.

"It took just a couple of hours to uncover more than 10,000 reviews from unverified purchasers on just 24 pairs of headphones — an easy-to-find red flag that highlights the scale of Amazon’s problem with fake reviews," the group wrote in a post detailing the findings of its investigation.

On just the first page of reviews for headphones on Amazon, 100% were unknown brands, the report said. Also on the first, page, 71% had a perfect 5-star review score and 87% of the products were unverified, or not confirmed as an Amazon purchase.

"A set of headphones by unknown brand Celebrat had 439 reviews. All were five-star, all unverified, and all arrived on the same day," the report said. "All of this could mislead shoppers into believing a product is better than it actually is."

In a statement emailed to ABC News, an Amazon spokesperson wrote, "Even one inauthentic review is one too many. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies."

"We use a combination of teams of investigators and automated technology to prevent and detect inauthentic reviews at scale, and to take action against the bad actors behind the abuse," the statement continued. "We estimate more than 90% of inauthentic reviews are computer generated, and we use machine learning technology to analyze all incoming and existing reviews 24/7 and block or remove inauthentic reviews."

Which? then shared its results with ReviewMeta, a company that diagnoses the accuracy of Amazon reviews.

ReviewMeta "believed every five-star unverified review of the top 10 pairs of headphones when sorted by average customer review was fake," Which? wrote.

In a statement emailed to ABC News about ReviewMeta, an Amazon spokesperson wrote: "We are able to assess review authenticity by looking at data points like reviewer, seller, or product history which websites like ReviewMeta do not have access to and therefore cannot concretely determine the authenticity of a review."

Amazon has been plagued by fake review problems for a while now.

In February, the Federal Trade Commission announced its first settlement with a company that allegedly used fake positive Amazon reviews as part of its marketing plan. The suit highlighted how important five-star reviews are to Amazon sales.

In fall 2018, the company also confirmed it was investigating reports that employees took bribes for deleting negative reviews.

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Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies recalled due to 'unexpected solidified ingredient'

(EasyBuy4u/iStock) FILE photo.(NEW YORK) -- Mondelēz Global has issued a voluntarily recall of its 13-ounce packages of Chewy Chips Ahoy after receiving reports of an "unexpected solidified ingredient" in some packages, it announced on Tuesday.

Some reports have also spoken of "adverse health effects," according to a statement from the company, although it did not elaborate on what those health effects were.

The recall is limited to packages labeled with the UPC number "0 44000 03223 4" and with the following "Best When Used By Dates," which are located on the top-left side of the package when you lift the tab:

  • 07SEP2019
  • 08SEP2019
  • 14SEP2019
  • 15SEP2019

The packages are red and have the word "Chewy" emblazoned on them in multiple locations. No other Chips Ahoy products are included in the recall.

Mondelēz warns consumers to not eat the product and to contact the company at 844-366-1171 for more information about the recall.

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Democrats subpoena Deutsche Bank as part of ongoing investigation into Trump

Joern Pollex/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees jointly subpoenaed Deutsche Bank on Monday as part of their ongoing investigation into President Donald Trump’s financial dealings and concerns about foreign influence over the Trump Organization, the president's family business.

"As part of our oversight authority and authorized investigation into allegations of potential foreign influence on the U.S. political process, the House Intelligence Committee today issued subpoenas to multiple financial institutions in coordination with the House Financial Services Committee, including a friendly subpoena to Deutsche Bank, which has been cooperative with the Committees," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement Monday. "We look forward to their continued cooperation and compliance."

The move was the latest effort by Democrats in the House to obtain information about the president’s personal and business finances.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said, "The potential use of the U.S. financial system for illicit purposes is a very serious concern. The Financial Services Committee is exploring these matters, including as they may involve the president and his associates, as thoroughly as possible pursuant to its oversight authority, and will follow the facts wherever they may lead us."

The subpoena was criticized by the president's son, Eric, who is running the family's business empire with his father in the White House.

"This subpoena is an unprecedented abuse of power and simply the latest attempt by House Democrats to attack the president and our family for political gain," Eric Trump said in a statement. "Instead of legislating, the committee is obsessed with harassing and undermining my father’s administration, doing everything they can to distract from his incredible accomplishments. This incompetence is the exact reason why the American people have such disdain for politicians and why my father was elected President. Today’s actions by the committee set a horrible precedent for all taxpayers."

"This subpoena is an unprecedented abuse of power and simply the latest attempt by House Democrats to attack the president and our family for political gain," he said.

In a statement, Deutsche Bank said it has "engaged in a productive dialogue" with both committees.

"We remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations in a manner consistent with our legal obligations," the bank said in a statement.

Last month, the German bank was subpoenaed by the New York attorney general following former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress about Trump's finances. Deutsche Bank has also cooperated with other inquiries.

Over the weekend, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, renewed his request to the Internal Revenue Service for six years of Trump's tax returns, after the agency dismissed an earlier deadline to turn over the records under a relatively obscure provision of the tax code.

Also on Monday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings served a subpoena to Mazars USA, an accounting firm employed by Trump, seeking 10 years of the president's financial records, in an effort to corroborate elements of Cohen's testimony before the committee.

The firm said it wouldn't comment on the request but would "respect the legal process and fully comply with its legal obligations."

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Which popular photo storage tool is best for you?

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- We now take more pictures than ever, and with thousands of captured precious memories, how do we make sure we don't lose them?

ABC News' Good Morning America teamed up with Bridget Carey, senior editor at tech site CNET, and had her work with New York mother-of-two Amanda Kerley to find the best way to back up her digital photos.

“I basically take probably thousands of photos of my kids,” Kerley said. “So just putting them on my computer, I kinda thought that was all you needed to do.”

But it doesn't exactly work that way.

"All it takes is one accident, one incident and everything is gone," said Carey.

She added that it can be overwhelming figuring out which photo storage tool to use.

Since Kerley takes pictures on her phone and camera, and uses all Apple products, Carey suggested these three options: Google Photos, Amazon Photos and Apple iCloud, pointing out the perks of each.

Google Photos

This cloud option has free unlimited storage for photos and videos, and works with Apple and Android devices. Carey also likes the search option where you can instantly pull up any photo based on something that might have happened in that photo. So if you type in “sports,” you can see all photos you have taken that involve any type of sport.

Carey pointed out that while the best option for Kerley is free, Google does have another storage plan for much higher quality pictures and video that starts at $1.99 a month.

Amazon Photos

Many people don’t realize with your Amazon Prime membership you can get free unlimited photo and 5 GB of video storage.

Since Kerley has Amazon products like an Echo Show and Fire Stick in her home, she can get her photos on these devices.

Apple iCloud

While this is the only option you have to pay for, storage options start as low as 99 cents a month for 50 GB. Carey pointed out that iCloud will also back up important information on your phone and computer like contacts, notes and apps.

Your photos and videos can also be organized into Moments, Collections and Years. The Memories and Sharing Suggestions features use on-device intelligence to scan your photos and organize them by faces and places, so you can search for pictures by either location or the people in them.

Another great option for backing up your photos and videos: an external hard drive. A hard drive that holds 1 TB, which should be able to hold all of most peoples’ media, costs about $50.

Google, Amazon and Apple each told ABC News in statements that they take privacy very seriously and are committed to keeping customers’ personal photos and videos safe.

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YouTube mistakenly flags Notre Dame Cathedral fire videos as 9/11 conspiracy

v777999/iStock(NEW YORK) -- YouTube apologized on Monday for mistakenly linking the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The video giant said a new tool for battling misinformation made "the wrong call" when it displayed text from Encyclopedia Britannica about 9/11 in several videos of the iconic cathedral burning on Monday.

"We are deeply saddened by the ongoing fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral," a YouTube spokesperson said. "These panels are triggered algorithmically, and our systems sometimes make the wrong call. We are disabling these panels for livestreams related to the fire."

YouTube introduced the fact-checking feature last year to stem the spread of conspiracy theories, including those that question the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City that killed thousands.

The algorithm is supposed to display information panels with links to third-party sources including Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia while displaying videos on subjects linked to conspiracies, according to the company.

Social media companies have been turning to computerized tools to help detect and eliminate fake news. Twitter suspended an account impersonating CNN earlier in the day after it incorrectly tweeted that the Paris fire had been caused by terrorism. French officials are still working to determine the cause of the fire.

A spokesperson for the historic cathedral described the damage as "colossal."

"Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame," the spokesperson said.

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California bill aims to ban complimentary shampoo bottles found in hotels

NeonJellyfish/iStock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Little shampoo and conditioner bottles are a seemingly intrinsic part of hotel bathrooms. They're often used only once, then end up in the trash.

Now, California state lawmakers are seeking to ban hotels and other lodging establishments from providing single-use small plastic bottles to their customers in an effort to reduce waste.

Introduced by Assemblyman Ash Kalra and co-authored by Assemblyman Mark Stone, Assembly Bill 1162 was introduced in February. If it passes, it will be put into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

“We know we have an enormous problem with our world, we’ve become addicted to [plastic] and it’s caused a major dilemma environmentally,” said Kalra.

The types of businesses the bill refers to include establishments like a hotel, motel, resort, bed and breakfast or vacation rental.

The bill would allow local authorities to inspect and enforce these requirements with a written warning upon first violation, and up to a $2,000 fine for those who fail to comply.

Stressing the importance of reducing the unnecessary use of plastic, Kalra said the hotel industry is a “relatively low hanging fruit,” since there is a viable alternative of replacing bottles with refillable dispensers, which many hotels have started to use.

Last year, Marriott announced plans to replace individual amenity bottles with in-shower dispensers at 1,500 hotels in North America, and to remove plastic straws worldwide by July 2019.

“We’re talking about hundreds and millions of bottles a year and that’s just in California,” Kalra said.

“It’s a pretty easy fix,” Stone added.

Roland Geyer, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara who studies in the environmental impact of industrial production and consumption, said the new bill is a step in the right direction.

“It’s mostly symbolic, but symbols can be powerful,” Geyer said. “Hopefully it will show consumers we can stop using plastic products and realize we won’t miss them.”

With 348 million tons of plastic produced in 2017, 40 percent of that production is single use packaging, according to a study conducted by Geyer.

Geyer said he did not see immediately see any unintended consequences in the bill.

AB 1162 comes as pressure to ban plastic products within the country and worldwide continues to grow within companies and governments alike.

Kalra said the bill is still in the early stages of the legislation process, but is hopeful about its outcome.

“We’re talking about changes that [are] already happening," said Kaira. "We just want to help facilitate it in that direction."

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Amid growing concern over ride-share safety, Lyft announces new security features

jetcityimage/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Just weeks after the death of a University of South Carolina student who was killed after getting into a car that she believed was her Uber, other ride-share companies are increasing their security features.

On Monday, Lyft announced that they were including two new safety features, in addition to the background checks that are already well established on the company platform. One new feature is "continuous criminal background checks," which will include daily monitoring of its active drivers and provide immediate notification of any disqualifying criminal convictions.

"Any driver who does not pass both the annual and continuous screenings will be barred from our platform," according to the company's blog.

The company also announced "enhanced identity verification," which will combine driver license verification and photography verification to prevent identity fraud.

The changes come just weeks after 20-year-old Samantha Josephson was killed. She was found dead in a wooded area after a night out with friends in Columbia, South Carolina. She had ordered an Uber to take her home in the early hours of March 29. Security video showed her getting into a car around 2 a.m., which police believe she thought was the Uber she'd requested.

Police said that after Josephson got into the car, her suspected killer activated the child safety door locks, preventing her from escaping.

Her parents Marci and Seymour Josephson spoke to George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America on Monday and urged for updated safety measures and changes to the laws to prevent future incidents.

"I think it's just become such a natural or new phenomenon using Uber. We trust people and you can't. You have to change the way that the laws are to make it safer because that's our nature. We automatically assume that we're safe," Marci Josephson said.

Uber has so far not announced any changes to its security platform since the incident. But the company has been using continuous criminal background checks since last year, and has its own real-time identification verification that has been in use for the last two years, according to a spokeswoman from Uber.

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Tax Day by the numbers: Time is ticking to meet tax-filing deadline

grejak/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Time is ticking to meet Monday's tax-filing deadline.

If you’re still scrambling to finish filing your returns, you’re not alone. As of last Friday, the Internal Revenue Service, said in a news release that about 50 million people had yet to file.

As of April 5, the IRS had received more than 103 million tax returns, and issued more than 77 million refunds totaling $220.762 billion -- a nearly $6 billion decrease from that time last year. The average refund was $2,833, down 1.1 percent, with more than a million fewer taxpayers receiving them compared to that time last year.

Taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts have until April 17 to file because of local holidays, and there are some other ways taxpayers can get extra time without asking, including if they were affected by a natural disaster, are serving in a combat zone or are living abroad.

The IRS estimates that more than 14.6 million taxpayers will file for and receive an automatic extension. Taxpayers can request an extension to file for Oct. 15, 2019, through Free File on And if they were affected by certain federally declared disasters, such as the tornadoes and storms in Alabama or the California wildfires, there are various extensions to file and pay by. If their address of record is located within a disaster area, the IRS said in a news release there’s no need to contact the agency to receive the relief.

This tax season provided new challenges for both taxpayers and the IRS to navigate, with the longest-running government shutdown in U.S. history combined with the implementation of the new federal tax law.

Visits to the website were up by about 10 percent as of April 5 compared to that time last year, with over 376 million visits, according to data released by the IRS.

According to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2018 Annual Report to Congress, the shutdown had devastating effects. The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS that advocates for taxpayers’ rights.

“The five weeks could not have come at a worse time for the IRS — facing its first filing season implementing a massive new tax law, with a completely restructured tax form,” Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, wrote in the report’s preface.

In the first week of the 2018 filing season, the IRS answered 86 percent of calls routed to an Accounts Management telephone assistor with an average wait time of about four minutes, according to a news release. During the first week of this year’s filing season, the number of calls answered dropped to 48 percent with an average wait time of 17 minutes. On some other IRS telephone lines, the wait time jumped to an average of 81 minutes to receive assistance.

On top of that, the new tax law also required the IRS to update forms and notices.

“Because of the revamp of the tax forms, the electronic filing requirements were not issued to private tax software vendors and electronic return originators until September 2018, much later than in previous years,” according to the report.

In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that asked how much in taxes respondents anticipated paying under the new law, 28 percent of people surveyed said they expected to pay more, 17 percent said they are paying less and the remainder said they were paying about the same or that they didn’t know enough to say one way or another.

The tax preparation company H&R Block analyzed clients’ data through March 31, and found that tax refunds are up 1.4 percent under the new law, while overall tax liability is down 24.9 percent, according to an April 11 news release. Tax liability was down nearly $1,200 on average and refunds were up $43, leaving an average of $1,156 that went into paychecks during the year, according to H&R Block’s analysis.

The taxpayers who experienced the biggest discrepancy between their paychecks and refunds: those who itemized in 2017 and 2018, according to H&R Block. Meanwhile the group with the largest refund increase -- about 6 percent on average -- were those who took the standard deduction in 2017 and 2018.

“It’s reasonable to assume that a tax cut would mean your refund will increase, but that’s not necessarily the case,” Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute and vice president of regulatory affairs at H&R Block, said in a news release. “The IRS updated how employers calculate how much tax to withhold from paychecks, which means you could have been getting all your tax cut – and then some – in your paychecks.”

“Either surprise – getting a larger or smaller refund than expected – can be a problem when you’ve been planning for and expecting something different,” Pickering said. “If you’re not happy with your refund, the important thing is to update your withholding so the same thing doesn’t happen to you again next year.”

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President Trump touts economic policies, tax cuts with Tax Day trip

Tom Brenner/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump touted his economic policies and Republican tax cuts with a Tax Day trip to Minnesota on Monday, where he made a visit to a truck and equipment retailer and participated in a roundtable discussion on the economy.

"Today is Tax Day that we’re celebrating and we’re getting historic tax relief, that’s the good part," President Trump said during the roundtable in Minnesota.

While the president seeks to leverage Tax Day to highlight his own economic policies, a recent poll found that most Americans don’t believe they’ve directly benefited from the Republican tax bill. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll found just 17% of people thought their taxes would go down.

Ahead of the president’s trip, top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow defended the popularity of the Republican tax cuts and the prosperity of the economy.

“I think at the end of the day you've got a very prosperous America with low unemployment, blue collar workers are doing actually higher wages than we've had in years and the blue collar workers are doing better than the white collar workers although everybody's sharing in the prosperity,” Kudlow said.

Tax Day also comes this year amid an ongoing battle for the president’s tax returns. Democrats have set a new deadline of April 23 for the IRS to hand over six years of the president’s returns, as requested by Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, under a provision of the tax code that gives the tax writing committee chair authority to request returns of any American.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the administration intends to respond to Neal by the April 23 deadline but said there are “complicated legal issues” at play.

"These are complicated legal issues and I think it is more important to the American taxpayers that we get this right than we hit an arbitrary deadline," Mnuchin told reporters. "I would just emphasize this is a decision that has enormous precedence in terms of potentially weaponizing the IRS."

President Trump has repeatedly refused to hand over his tax returns, saying his legal team has advised him not to, claiming he us under audit, even though audits do not prohibit him from doing so.

"I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit. It’s very simple," Trump told reporters last week, and also argued the matter has already been litigated through the 2016 election.

"Remember, I got elected last time -- the same exact issue, with same intensity, which wasn’t very much because, frankly, the people don’t care," he asserted.

The president's personal lawyers sent a new letter to Treasury Department on Monday to make the case that the IRS should not hand over the president's tax return information, saying the request is unconstitutional.

“We have once again reiterated our objections to the unconstitutional demand for the President’s tax returns," the president's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow said.

President Trump on Monday also made a nod to the political significance of Minnesota, which is traditionally a Democratic stronghold but that he lost by just two points in 2016.

"This has been a very special state," President Trump said. "It's been a rare victory for Republicans and we almost won it."

"One more speech," the president quipped, suggesting that one more visit during the election could have tipped the scales in his favor.

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Can 'FUCT' be trademarked? Supreme Court hears First Amendment case

Melodie Jeng/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Monday could turn out to be, well ... downright vulgar.

On the justices' docket is the case of "FUCT," a clothing line founded by Los Angeles fashion designer Erik Brunetti. The company is fighting for trademark protection after the federal government refused to register the name, calling it "scandalous" and "immoral."

Brunetti says the brand is pronounced by saying each letter: "F-U-C-T" and is meant to be "thought-provoking."

He reportedly says it stands for "Friends You Can Trust."

A federal appeals court sided with FUCT, saying that, while the name is vulgar, federal trademark law's restriction on scandalous and immoral trademarks is a violation of free speech under the First Amendment.

The government argues that the "scandalous and immoral" standard is viewpoint-neutral -- applies to everyone seeking a trademark -- and is a reasonable condition to impose.

Brunetti notes in court documents, however, that the standard has been inconsistently applied and is highly subjective. For example, the terms "FCUK," "THE F WORD," and "F'D" were all approved for trademarks while "F U," "EFFU" and "FVCKED" were not.

In 2017, the Supreme Court struck down a similar part of federal trademark law -- one which had banned trademark registration for "disparaging" language. The justices said, in a unanimous opinion, that "giving offense is a viewpoint" protected by the First Amendment.

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