Alphabet Inc.’s Google has removed a slew of negative reviews for the Uyghur Forced Labor Checker, a Google Chrome extension designed to expose brands associated with forced Uyghur labor.
About the app: Developed by the Human Rights Foundation, the tool works by notifying internet users about businesses linked to forced Uyghur labor. In 2022, it garnered recognition through a Webby People’s Voice award for public service and activism.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Checker resonates with many users who are concerned over the alleged forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region. The U.S. government and other entities have accused China of perpetrating acts of genocide against the Uyghur population, involving forced labor as a significant facet.
An orchestrated attack: Earlier this year, the extension experienced a surge in unusual activity, including a barrage of one-star ratings on Google’s platform, according to Bloomberg. In May, the Human Rights Foundation’s legal team alerted Google to what it deemed to be potential manipulation of its feedback system aimed at undermining the tool’s credibility.
Claudia Bennett, the legal and program officer at the Human Rights Foundation, disclosed the erratic download pattern as a calculated bot attack. The reviews bore distinct hallmarks, including cartoon avatars, nonsensical names and broken English. Phrases like “Malicious slander” and “Leakage of privacy” permeated these reviews, indicating a concerted effort to tarnish the tool’s reputation.
Google’s response: Google has since removed the suspicious reviews, which the Human Rights Foundation attributed to a disinformation campaign. In a statement to Bloomberg, a Google spokesperson noted its diligent monitoring of the Chrome Web Store and reiterated its policy of removing reviews violating its guidelines. However, despite the reviews being apparently orchestrated, the company did not identify who they thought was behind them.