When will the world - the reviews sites themselves and the regulators (the CMA in the UK) -wake up to the damage done by fake reviews?
Regular readers will have lost count of the number of times we have written on this subject, and the articles go back nearly ten years. First, let us look at the points made by Which? and the BBC and TripAdvisor's responses.
- Fake reviews are written by employees or agents of the hotel in question. Surely it is not about '[going after] fake reviews "very aggressively"' but more about going after the hotels themselves? What has TripAdvisor done to warn its users that the hotels in question have been guilty of seriously misleading the public? Nothing, as far as we can make out.
- There is another category of fake review that neither Which? nor the BBC has touched on: the negative fake review. These are written, in significant volumes, by competitor hotels.
- "We are doing more than any other platform out there" That's not saying much Mr Kay; as far as we are aware HelpHound is the only reviews mechanism in the world today that moderates reviews pre-publication (and we are not claiming that our system is 100% watertight, but at least we do everything we can to ensure that it is as close as possible to the ideal). TripAdvisor has massive financial resources (it turned over nearly $2 bn last year) and staff (over 3,000 at last count) and it is constantly investing in just about everything except ensuring the veracity of its reviews, the very aspect of its business model that reassures its users so they use its platform to book their hotel and therefore earn TripAdvisor revenue.
- Naomi Leach of which is right on both counts: TripAdvisor has consistently failed, over many years, to give any concrete examples of action it has taken, on its own initiative, to prevent fake review appearing on its site and to prevent hotels gaming their Tripadvisor reviews.
- "Platforms like TripAdvisor should be more responsible for the information presented to consumers". Absolutely; we would just take the word 'more' out of this sentence.
- Show us your 'fraud detection tools'. TripAdvisor has consistently hidden behind the weak excuse that to expose its so-called 'fraud detection tools' would lead to further and more sophisticated fraud by hotels. That, to our mind, is a bit like saying that drivers will find a way around speed cameras.
- The UK CMA has the power to sanction review sites or sites such as TripAdvisor that invite and display reviews as part of their business model. It is high time that they did so.
- The CMA also has the power to prosecute businesses that set out to fraudulently deceive consumers. They should do so.
We look forward to seeing TripAdvisor take action - publicly visible action - against hotels that post fake reviews. Years ago they did do so, here is the 'red flag' notice they used...
Surely the hotels that Which? identified in their investigation merit something similar, if only to warn consumers? After all, what are reviews for at the end of the day?
We would also like to see a thorough investigation by the CMA - and action taken.