Published: Sat, September 15, 2018
Business | By Tara Barton

Fake TripAdvisor Reviewer Sentenced to Jail in Italy

Fake TripAdvisor Reviewer Sentenced to Jail in Italy

TripAdvisor said it believes some businesses paid for fake reviews and were subsequently hit with penalties that lowered their all-important popularity rankings.

In one of the first cases of its kind, a court in Lecce in the southern region of Puglia ruled that writing fake reviews under a false identity is a criminal offence.

The stakes just got a whole lot higher for businesses flogging online reviews for cash.

The unnamed man's company, PromoSalento, sold fake reviews to help bump up reviews on the website.

And so it is that the proprietor of an Italian service called PromoSalento, which sold hospitality businesses glowing reviews on TripAdvisor, finds himself heading for jail.

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"We see this as a landmark ruling for the internet", TripAdvisor's Vice President and Associate General Counsel Brad Young said.

The company said since 2015 it had thwarted 60 different paid review companies across the world. TripAdvisor joined the legal proceedings as a civil claimant, and provided the prosecution with its own evidence. Without even knowing it, the company was leaving behind a trail of digital behavioural "breadcrumbs" that would lead prosecutors to convict them.

'The global travel community is a vital partner in the fight against paid review fraud and evidence shared by business owners approached by paid review companies is particularly valuable'. The shift in consumer behaviour has resulted in advice from organisations such as the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, which published guidelines on the responsible use and misuse of ratings and review on digital platforms past year.

'The recommendations were developed in collaboration with TripAdvisor, Minube and Yelp and we know that industry collaboration has an important role to play in tackling review fraud. The company faces growing pressure to tackle fake reviews and has come under fire in the past for not doing enough to prevent them, from the Italian Competition Authority, among others.

But the historic case highlights how hard it's becoming for these types of phoney online accounts and illegal businesses to exist.

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