TripAdvisor fined for fake reviews

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Good or bad, TripAdvisor usually thrives on reviews — but when antitrust officials in Italy gave their damning opinion of the travel website, it wasn’t quite so happy.

Slapped with a 500,000 euro fine ($611,000) for unfair trade activity and “misleading consumers,” TripAdvisor has hit back, accusing the Italian Competition Authority (ICA) of being out of touch.

“We think the ruling is unreasonable, strongly disagree with its findings and will file an appeal,” it said in a statement.

“We firmly believe that TripAdvisor is a force for good — both for consumers and the hospitality industry.”

The regulator complained that people reading TripAdvisor Italy were unable to distinguish between genuine and fake reviews posted on the site. It said both were presented by TripAdvisor as “authentic and genuine in nature.”

Demanding payment of the fine within 30 days, the ICA also accused the travel company of failing to provide proper checks to weed out bogus postings.

It said TripAdvisor Italy had fallen foul of three articles of the Italian consumer code, “making it likely to mislead a wide audience of consumers.”

‘Zero tolerance’

In its response, TripAdvisor said it took aggressive action to fight fraud and had adequate systems in place to prevent it.

It complained that the Italian watchdog’s “zero tolerance” rules meant it would be liable to the same punishment even if just one review out of millions was deemed questionable.

“From our initial review we believe that the ICA’s recommendations are unwarranted and out of touch with commercial realities, not just of a user-generated content business, but of any company in any sector,” it said.

“The bottom line is, if people didn’t find the reviews helpful, they wouldn’t keep coming back to our site.”

Founded in February 2000, TripAdvisor now claims to be the world’s largest travel website, hosting millions of reviews from its community of users.

The now ubiquitous write-ups have caused numerous upsets within the travel industry, with some operators and hotels complaining of being unfairly maligned.

In one recent case, a hotel in Blackpool, England, fined a guest who posted a bad review calling the establishment “filthy,” “dirty” and “rotten.”