A complaint about the authenticity of Tripadvisor reviews has been upheld by UK watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority.
The complaint by online reputation specialist KwikChex Ltd centred on the site’s claims of the authenticity and trustworthiness of its reviews.
Tripadvisor had claimed the site featured more than “50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world”.
But Kwikchex and two other hotels challenged this arguing the site could not guarantee that its reviews were genuine or from real travellers.
Tripadvisor has always maintained that its trustworthiness is demonstrated by the high levels of traffic that the site gets and that its community helps to weedle out fake or spurious reviews.
It also claims to constantly monitor reviews itself and utilise “highly effective fraud detection systems, and dedicated substantial resources to identifying and minimising any non-genuine content”.
The website claimed the small number of fake reviews that do get through its processes meant their impact was negligible because travellers read dozens of reviews before making a decision.
It added that there was a “healthy scepticism” of user reviews in general and that “mitigated the effect of any fraudulent content that might occasionally come to a user’s attention”.
In its submission Tripadvisor said due to the non-transactional nature of its model it was not possible to verify every reviewer by reference to credit card or reservation details.
However the ASA upheld the complaint saying: “We told TripAdvisor not to claim or imply that all the reviews that appeared on the website were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted.”
The ruling stated: “...we understood that reviews could be placed on the site without any form of verification, and that whilst TripAdvisor took steps to monitor and deal with suspicious activity, it was possible that non-genuine content would appear on the site undetected.
“We noted that TripAdvisor allowed hoteliers a ‘right of reply’ to critical or negative reviews posted on the site and that they believed that users of the site had a healthy scepticism as a result of their experience of review sites more generally.
“However, we did not consider that consumers would necessarily be able to detect and separate non-genuine reviews from genuine content, particularly where a hotel or other establishment had not received many reviews, and nor did we consider that a hotelier’s response in itself would go far enough to alert consumers to, and moderate, non-genuine content.”
Kwikchex has issued a second separate complains against Tripadvisor claiming that third party sites that use Tripadvisor reviews to promote their product are breaking existing rules if they are not able to verify the author of those reviews.
Since the UK investigation started Tripadvisor has already stopped using the word “trusted “ to describe itself on its website.