TripAdvisor releases first ever fake review report

Travel and entertainment review site details percentage of fraudulent reviews and detection efforts

TripAdvisor has released its first fake review report, detailing the volume of fake reviews found on its site in 2018 and its efforts to find and remove fraudulent reviews.

The travel booking site rejected or removed 4.7 per cent of all submitted reviews. Of these, 2.1 per cent were found to be fake and almost three-quarters of them were blocked before being published to the site, according to its 2019 Review Transparency Report.

“We’ve continued to make advancements to our industry leading fraud detection efforts in recent years, but it’s a daily battle and we are far from complacent,” said TripAdvisor senior director of trust and safety, Becky Foley.

To get to this point, TripAdvisor analysed 66 million reviews submitted to the site in 2018 with fraud detection technology, then followed up with content moderators on 2.7 million of those reviews which were flagged for additional assessment. In all, 1 million fake reviews were stopped from being published on the site and 34,643 businesses were given a ranking penalty for posting fake reviews.

The site has also challenged others in the industry, specifically calling out the big players, Google and Facebook, to help improve their practices, although it didn’t actually nominate what changes it wants to see.

“As long as other review platforms aren’t taking aggressive action, then fraudsters will continue to exploit and extort small businesses for cash. It is time other platforms like Google and Facebook stepped up to the plate to join us in tackling this problem head on,” said Foley.

TripAdvisor’s transparency report comes after the site was the subject of a scam by English journalist, Oobah Butler, who started out writing fake paid reviews on the site. Butler subsequently created a listing for a non-existent restaurant and pushed it to the top of the London dining list with fake five-star reviews in 2017.

Locally, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has taken action against a number of sites alleging false or misleading representations, including fake reviews and misleading price claims.

The consumer watchdog has also been in court with Trivago over the travel booking site’s price transparency. The ACCC initiated legal proceedings against the site alleging it advertised itself as an impartial and objective price comparison service for consumers to find the cheapest prices for hotel rooms; however, Trivago prioritised its advertisers who paid the highest cost per click fee.

It’s not the first time the ACCC has taken issue with reviews related to TripAdvisor. In 2017, after ACCC legal action, Meriton Serviced Apartments was found to have engaged in misleading conduct in relation to TripAdvisor by minimising the chances of negative reviews appearing on the site.

In other actions, the watchdog has initiated proceedings against HealthEngine, alleging the site manipulated patient reviews to review negative comments or embellish others. Service Seeking also came to the attention of the ACCC after it alleged the tasking platform published self-written reviews without input from the customer. And Aveling Homes has allegedly manipulated reviews by obscuring unfavourable reviews and creating fake reviews sites intended to appear to consumers as independent and not affiliated with the business.

The ACCC has said online reviews and testimonials are important for consumers when they choose which business to buy goods or services from. It has warned businesses online reviews need to accurately reflect the independent views and feedback of genuine customers or the business risks breaching the Australian Consumer Law.

The ACCC’s recent Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report included a range of recommendations, while not specifically related to online reviews, but covering consumer data, the dominance of digital platforms, the news media and advertising.

“The world has now recognised the impact of the digital platforms’ market power and the impact this has on consumers, news, businesses and society more broadly. Continuing national and world action will now follow,” said ACCC chair, Rod Sims.

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