Consumers may want to think twice before funneling their hard-earned dollars into travel and restaurant destinations suggested by TripAdvisor, reports The Telegraph. The travel review website is being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority after a flood of complaints. Thousands of hotels and restaurants claim that TripAdvisor’s reviews are either fake or unnecessarily defamatory.
TripAdvisor fake reviews harm online reputation
One of the reasons TripAdvisor has become as popular as it is – the site boasts more than 50 million reviews – is that it features user-generated content almost exclusively. People travel or frequent restaurants, then write about their experience and give a star rating. If TripAdvisor’s populist legitimacy is called into question, the foundation upon which the business was founded could crumble. People make purchasing decisions based upon the information on TripAdvisor, and if the site cannot be trusted, consumers should turn elsewhere.
More than 2,000 hotel and restaurant owners recently approached KwikChex.com, a company that helps companies manage their online reputations. When the nature of the complaints against TripAdvisor became evident, the ASA got involved. An ASA spokesman confirmed to The Telegraph that an investigation of TripAdvisor is under way.
The investigation into TripAdvisor’s alleged fake reviews will focus on two aspects of the travel review website’s business. The first is TripAdvisor’s practice of using unverifiable quotations in the testimonials as part of its promotional materials. TripAdvisor encourages hotels to use positive quotes from its website in their own promotional materials. KwikChex.com believes this breaches ASA code, and that TripAdvisor must make the sources of all testimonial comments – be they positive or negative – easy to trace.
The other element of TripAdvisor’s business that has KwikChex.com and others concerned is the use of the term “trust.” The term can easily mislead, so the investigators are asking for TripAdvisor to display additional proof of any claims of trustworthiness.
“KwikChex.com believes that such an evaluation is vital because evidence of epidemic levels of abuse, flaws and distortion are being rebutted at present only with standard statements from TripAdvisor repeating clams of diligence and trustworthiness – and the public need to weigh the evidence properly,” said Chris Emmins, KwikChex.com co-founder.
In addition to the ongoing investigation, Emmins told the Associated Press that he has started a civil action against TripAdvisor on behalf of U.S. hotel and restaurant owners. A formal complaint has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission.
Not a first-time faker
According to MSNBC, this isn’t the first time TripAdvisor has been suspected of hosting fake reviews. The travel review site has had to use disclaimers in the past on certain restaurant and hotel reviews because there were questions as to whether certain businesses were filling their profiles with sock puppet-type reviews to either help themselves or hurt the competition.
Sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and others have claimed to have found ways to root out fraudulent reviews. Ultimately, consumers who trust such services will speak with their wallets.