by Margie Murphy

Alphabet Inc’s Google has removed hundreds of negative reviews for a tracker that identified apparel brands linked to Uyghur forced labor after its maker said the reviews were part of a disinformation campaign.

The Human Rights Foundation’s Uyghur Forced Labor Checker has been experiencing unusual activity in recent months, with the number of downloads fluctuating dramatically, according to Claudia Bennett, legal and program officer at the nonprofit. The tool, a Google Chrome extension, alerts Internet users if the website of a retailer or business they are visiting has links linked to Uyghur forced labor.

The Human Rights Foundation won the 2022 Webby People’s Voice Award in Public Service and Activism. In May, the organization’s legal department alerted Google to a barrage of one-star ratings that they suspected were part of a computer bot attack. According to screenshots seen by Bloomberg News, the reviews came from accounts using similar cartoon avatars as profile pictures, had nonsensical first and last names, and spoke in broken English.

One of the reviews said, “Malicious slander.” “Privacy leak,” claimed another. The third said, “Isn’t it very boring.”

A Google spokesperson said the company carefully monitors the Chrome Web Store and removes reviews that violate its policies, including those removed from the Uyghur Forced Labor Checker. It was unclear who was behind the negative reviews.

The US has accused China of forcing Uighurs to work in the Xinjiang region in what officials have described as a widespread campaign of genocide.

first published: 24 August 2023 | 11:10 p.m. First

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