The complaint centred on TripAdvisor's claims of the trustworthiness and reliability of reviews posted on their website. It was made because of what we regarded as exaggerated claims by TripAdvisor regarding the trustworthiness of reviews on their website, which are all unsubstantiated - without even verification that authors of comments left on the site are genuine customers of the businesses they were reviewing.
We know that a substantial number are false - both positive and negative reviews, and this has been proven many times.
Since the original complaint was made, we have conducted further investigations and obtained further evidence of the ways in which the site is being abused by fraudsters, some of whom are malevolent and do great harm to reputable businesses. It is small businesses that suffer most as they tend to have few reviews and so the impact is much greater - although any business with a recent very bad review does suffer, particularly if it is for example a false accusation of something such as food poisoning, bed bugs or criminality. The last reviews made can sit on or near the top of the profile for a considerable time and appear high up internet search results. This unquestionably results in a loss of business, even if the profile / rating is generally good.
There are also a growing number of people that are using or attempting to use reviews sites to extort discounts and money from businesses. Some of these are premeditated fraud. We are now handling cases such as this that are being reported to the police.
In terms of fake positive reviews, we will be releasing evidence of precisely how the few checks and systems that TripAdvisor have in place are being circumvented to manipulate the rankings. This will also lead to identification of some of the businesses employing 'professional' review fraudsters. We will be providing this information to both TripAdvisor and the relevant authorities in a bid to help stop such practices. In exchange we will be asking TripAdvisor to prioritise examination of cases brought to us by our members which have clear evidence of defamation, malice and gross distortion.
It is not necessarily bad businesses that attempt this subterfuge. Businesses that have particularly low standards are likely to be caught out very quickly. There is a perception that boosting a rating a few places in say the top 20 in a location will also boost revenues. The professional fraudsters tend to approach businesses that are in the top 20 -50 with promises of moving them up the ranking. Similarly, bad reviews are placed to knock competitors down a few places and make consumers think twice about booking.
TripAdvisor do have the capability to provide genuine authentication, which would be good for both consumers and reputable, well run businesses. Their UK subsidiary, Holiday Lettings, has a review system that is powered by and hosted on TripAdvisor. It clearly states 'Verify your stay: We only accept reviews of vacation rentals from people who actually stayed at that property. Guest of record and date of stay will be presented to the manager to verify your stay. We will not share the content or rating of the review with the manager.'
Similarly Expedia, who until recently owned TripAdvisor and floated the company off as a separate, publicly traded company last month has also recognised the pressing need for verification. John Kim, Expedia's senior vice president of global products, just days after the TripAdvisor floatation told USA Today:
"(Customers) have been asking for a source of reviews they can trust," Kim says, citing stories of a "black market" of fake reviews on other review sites. How widely held a belief that is, however, isn't clear. So far, focus groups that Expedia has brought into its building to try out the system have garnered positive feedback, Kim says.” This has tested off the charts in our internal testing," he told me. "People love the idea that our reviews are verified so you can't randomly leave a review."
And Expedia recently approached KwikChex about providing additional authentication services.
KwikChex will be announcing shortly a number of other initiatives which are aimed at preventing review fraud and improving overall reliability, which they will be discussing with reviews sites across the world.