An Italian has been jailed for selling hundreds of fake TripAdvisor reviews.
The owner of an Italian business (Promo Salento) that sold fake TripAdvisor reviews has been sentenced to nine months in prison. He posted favourable reviews on behalf of hundreds of restaurants and was sentenced by a court in Italy and also ordered to pay around €8000 euros (£7,100) in damages and legal costs.
The unnamed businessman submitted over 1,000 paid-for reviews to TripAdvisor, pretending to be satisfied diners. He charged restaurants €100 euros for 10 reviews.
The court in Puglia ruled that writing fictional reviews using a false identity is criminal conduct. Paid review fraud is illegal in EU countries, but this is the first case to result in a jail term. TripAdvisor hailed the result as “a landmark ruling for the Internet”.
TripAdvisor said that writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result” – Brad Young, the company’s vice-president, in a statement. He also said that since 2015, they’d put a stop to the activity of more than 60 different paid review companies worldwide.
TripAdvisor is the world’s biggest travel website with more than 600 million reviews covering accommodation, airlines, museums and restaurants. The quality of the customer reviews is essential to TripAdvisor and there has been bad publicity over fake reviews at times with complaints that TripAdvisor doesn’t do enough to weed out the fake ones.
There has been the development of a market for businesses offering reputation management which can them include writing good reviews and submitting negative reviews of their competitors. This not legal but is difficult to prove.
As an experiment, a Vice journalist wanted to see if he could get a ridiculous non existent restaurant to rank high on TripAdvisor.
He selected his garden shed, called it “The Shed”, created a pretentious website and made photographs of ridiculous looking food – largely created with shaving foam, colourants and anything to hand. Then using friends he created so many top reviews that his shed became the number one restaurant in London according to TripAdvisor.
Oh dear, TripAdvisor.
Almost all reviews on TripAdvisor and similar sites are believed to be real, but do beware the fakes.
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