Eleven months since that initial flurry of coverage and many could be forgiven for thinking it was just a publicity stunt to attract new members to the company’s reputation management consultancy.
Not so, according to chief executive Chris Emmins.
The reason for no obvious sign of activity or the start of a legal process is that the scope of the action has been widened considerably, with Google now under the wider umbrella of a movement to make media brands liable for of publishing defamatory hotel reviews.
Emmins says is the past 12 months the company has had over 3,000 requests for business owners needing assistance for dealing with alleged cases of fraudulent reviews.
Since the launch of the campaign in September 2010 the company has spent a further eight months gathering more evidence and analysing data, it says to help crack down on “the lack of ethics and diligence of large brand names”, all of which “play a key role” in allowing reviews to be published.
In terms of TripAdvisor, Kwikchex has estimated that 20 million of the 50 million reviews on the system are now older than one year and are therefore irrelevant to consumers.
Of the overall figure, Emmins claims:
“These include tens of thousands of legally defamatory comments, harassment, racism, bigotry, graphic accounts of sexual attacks, lewd and offensive language, drug taking. prostitution. personal insults against named individuals and hearsay. either their claims of efficient screening are false – or they condone such behaviour on their site.”
Despite the recentÂ removal of full third party reviews on Google Places (links remain), Kwikchex says Google is failing to detect “obvious and extensive” review fraud.
Google is, according to Emmins, doing nothing to stop “extreme and persistent spamming on Google Maps”, not removing posts from search results when businesses have been falsely accused of incidents, and not removing alleged defamatory videos from YouTube.
Kwikchex is also investigating the activities of marketing agencies that are paid to post fake reviews about hotel properties.
“Businesses such as TripAdvisor and Google take refuge behind laws that came into place long before the advent of social media. When challenged about their failings, they quickly resort to claiming immunity from prosecution. Such laws were intended to protect freedom of speech, but with so little diligence and ethics they are now being used to ensure freedom of deceit.”
So, looking beyond the rhetoric, where does the Kwikchex campaign now stand?
- Kwikchex has now reported TripAdvisor to the Federal Trade Commission in the US and the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK for “misrepresentation, misleading statements and unlawful practices of advertising using reviews where no substantiation is available and from a source where fraudulent reviews are known to be posted”.
- Kwikchex is sending a file to the FBI in the US for “investigation concerning internet harassment” The file cites the sending of emails within which TripAdvisor is accused of directly maligning specific hotels.
- A challenge is expected to be made against Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, so TripAdvisor can be made responsible for publishing and creation of alleged defamatory content.
NB: TripAdvisor has refused throughout to comment on any aspect of impending or active litigation.