tripadvisor action
6 years ago
 

Expansion of hotel review defamation action, Google added, FBI alerted

Remember Kwikchex, the UK organisation which pledged to come down hard on TripAdvisor for publishing alleged libellous reviews about hotels?

tripadvisor action

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.”

While the original action against TripAdvisor remains at the centre (and now loosely acknowledged by TripAdvisor), adding Google to the campaign takes it to another level.

Despite the recent 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.

Emmins says:

“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.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.

 

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  1. Janice

    There is another dimension to all this. Websites such as Ripoff Report can post knowingly false and/or defamatory material and then charge companies and businesses thousands of dollars to ‘repair’ their reputation has destroyed hundreds of individuals and small US and non-US businesses. Moreover, this ‘business model’ rips off the consumer because companies using questionable and illegal businesses tactics can pay to be ‘verified safe’. For example, in the last 12 months 2 businesses ‘verified safe’ by Ripoff Report were busted by the Feds in the US and one was successfully prosecuted by the ACCC in Australia.

    Legal remedies are often beyond the means of small businesses. I am not a business. I was a consumer and a revenge attack was posted on Ripoff Report which destroyed my career. I live in a country (Australia) that is not covered by laws such as the CDA. After 12 months of hard work I assembled enough research to take to an experienced law firm and we filed proceedings against Google Inc and Google Australia in February 2011.

    This research is on my blog – drjaniceduffy.com and the story finally hit the media yesterday.
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/australian-it/google-being-sued-over-ripoff-site/story-e6frgakx-1226200582207
    http://www.smartcompany.com.au/legal/20111121-another-australian-sues-google-over-nasty-comments-posted-online.html

    Ripoff Report charhes thousands of dollars to ‘repair’ reputations or $2,000 a pop to investigate the report with no guarantee that the information will be redacted. Additionally even if this option was affordable to non-US businesses, Ripoff Report does not offer it and will not remove the material.

    I watched for over a year while Google removed links to allegedly defamatory material about Australians on Ripoff Report who owned
    high end’ businesses. I have subsequently spoken with small Australians businesses owners who have been ruined and others who have broken down in tears while describing their efforts to try and deal with it all. Google knows about Ripoff Report and does not care. Moreover, it puts ads on the defamatory webpages and shares in the revenue. How is this right?

    About a year ago Google dealt with a ‘situation’ AFTER it hit the media.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/business/28borker.html?pagewanted=all
    The website owner was subsequently arrested.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/13/business/13borker.html

    I am NOT a business and it was literally fight or suicide! I will fight Google to the bitter end and I can tell you that I am NOT going to ‘go away’ nor am I going to forget about the small Australian businesses. Some of them have organised and we are in touch.

     
  2. Denise T

    Online reviews can be invaluable when making decisions on what to buy, where to go, and who to get things from. It can be a real deal maker or breaker. If they are honest reviews, that’s great. If they are dishonest reviews, that’s not.

    It is quite easy for competitors to create fake reviews on these sites or any other site where there is commenting. I think the site owners should take measures to ensure that their sites are not being used as a way to manipulate not only search engine rankings, but as a vehicle to unfairly siphon market share.

    “Defaming for dollars” has become the latest marketing tactic used by unethical competitors to oust competition and slyly overtake search engine results pages.

    Review sites are the favorite haunts of Google bombs, as in the case of the Site Build It Scam and are used heavily by black hats and pranksters to attack with a flurry of flame baiting.

    It’s interesting that Google can’t detect this behavior and tweak its algorithm accordingly. It’s also interesting how it refuses to perform any manual tweaks even once a Google bomb is reported.

    As quoted above, “Google is failing to detect “obvious and extensive” review fraud.”

    Well, Google only seems interested in detecting what it wants to detect, and those are things driven by money or that make it look good.

    Google does not act in the best interest of the people.

    One could argue that it’s important for Google to stay impartial, and it’s important for these review sites to remain impartial. The problem is, when algorithmic technology is harnessed and used as a weapon, someone needs to be accountable.

    If something like this happened anywhere in the offline world, someone would be accountable. But online, nobody steps forward. Sooner or later, those roles will be chosen by someone. And those who do the defaming will scream censorship.

    If everyone were honest and forthright, we wouldn’t need laws.

     
  3. Ray Gordon

    Everyone acts like Section 230 (ISP/website immunity from defamation lawsuits) is black-letter law, when it is NOT. In fact, the US Supreme Court has NEVER weighed in on the issue, and in a recent book entitled “The Offensive Internet,” TWENTY law professors call for the repeal or modification of Section 230 to make it similar to the DMCA (i.e., a “defamation takedown notice” that allows the ISP to escape liability as long as they take down the offensive remarks).

    Section 230 was passed in 1996 as a reaction to Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy, where Prodigy lost a lawsuit over a message-board posting. ONE senator (Ron Wydon, D-OR) slipped the immunity into an internet bill thinking it would help free speech, but it has done the opposite, since it gives no incentive to ISPs to stop defamation, or even harassment. Cyberbullying as we know it would not exist without this law, since the social networks could be held liable.

    Since 1996, Google’s archive, plus social media, have made this immunity a WEAPON, as people can “Google bomb” others, and know that they won’t lose their online access no matter what they do, while suing individuals can be difficult, especially since most could not afford to pay a judgment.

    Prior to Section 230, “distributor liability” would apply to those who “amplify” defamation. ALL FIFTY STATES recognized this liability, which, along with 150 years of precedent, was wiped out with one single, misguided federal law. Defamation law was enacted to reploace DUELING, yet now people have no recourse for defending their reputations. In an extreme case, an ANONYMOUS poster can defame you, Google will archive it, and NO ONE can be sued, because Google is immune, and the original author cannot be located.

    Section 230 will fall, because eventually it will harm someone the people in power actually care about.

     
  4. Mandy Davidson

    @Robert. It would seem that you have certainly been doing your homework!
    I operate a restaurant that caters for 800 – 1000 covers per week. That’s a lot of customers through our door and a lot to ensure leave happy. Every morning I sit down with my management team to run over the previous day’s service to deal with any issues that may have arisen. We run a successful establishment recently voted Aberdeen’s best restaurant and we are renowned for our friendly service and award-winning food. We deal with every complaint as best we can for a happy outcome and I am always aware if any complaint has been made in the restaurant. It is a much more difficult problem trying to deal with a complaint that is not made at the time but vented behind a keyboard from a safe distance where the truth can often be distorted. I do not like having to deal in this manner but appreciate that the internet plays a huge part of everyday life and have had to get savvy to keep up. We welcome reviews both good and bad as long as they are honest and detail the problem that they encountered when they were in.
    My first experience with Tripadvisor came at the beginning of 2010. I am ashamed to say that prior to that I had no knowledge of the website as I was not as hands-on as I am now. A customer had come in and informed us that they very nearly did not book as they had read a terrible review on TA. The review in question slated every aspect of the restaurant from being filthy to finding a leaf in their food. The only evidence I had was that they had been in on the Saturday night at their Grandmother’s 90th birthday. Needless to say TA ignored our request to have it removed. I went through our booking sheet and called the party in question, they knew nothing of the review. They then called back 30 mins later to say that their 13 year old daughter and her friends had thought that it would be great fun to denigrate our business in this manner – welcome to the world of TA! I then diligently checked the website daily and when I thought it to be a genuine complaint, I wrote an apology. For every generic review that merely cast us as “rubbish” I sent a personal message to the reviewer asking for more detail and offering a way to change the way that they felt about the restaurant…I rarely got a response. This may seem arrogant but if a customer will not engage with me when I offer to correct a grievance and do not tell me what the specific problem is then a public apology will not be forthcoming. In the case of one such reviewer who
    has entered two reviews both describing us as “terrible” I received three messages from him where in each he berated me for every aspect of my business but in none of those replies did he take the opportunity to tell me when he dined or what he ate even though I asked politely (ours is not the only restaurant he has targeted)- how do you suggest I reply to such reviews?

    I now give you this scenario. A month ago this review was published:

    “disappointing”
    Reviewed 19 July 2011 NEW
    Visited the cock n bull for dinner (my birthday) with great expectations. Unfortunately it really did not come up to standard expected from previous reviews which was down to overpriced food and unprofessional staff, we had to ask twice for our drinks order which was embarrassing. Food was okay but really not exceptional and certainly not value for money. There are far better restaurants close by in Aberdeenshire.

    This was the reviewer’s second attempt, the first one was removed as in it they accused us of criminal behaviour and it breached TA guidelines. The second was written in a much more plausible manner and therefore slipped through Tripadvisor’s exemplary fraud detection. It has subsequently been removed.

    I now give you this review:
    “Terrible service”
    Reviewed 1 July 2011
    6
    people found this review helpful
    The food was fantastic, however, we ordered a bottle of Red wine, it arrived already opened and had a small amount missing from it and had a dribble of wine down the outside of the bottle (it looked as though a glass had already been poured from it). When we brought this to the attention of the waitress, she decided to argue with us that she opened it at the bar. I explained a little restaurant etiquette that wine should be opened at the table in front of the customer. She reluctantly went to get us another bottle. After this, except from bringing our food, the waitresses & waiters came no-where near us, we had to go up to the bar to order another drink.

    It’s a shame because the food was delicious, sort the staff & service out & it will be fantastic.

    This review stayed on TA for a month and I wrote an apology as some of my waitresses had gone on holiday therefore I could not verify it’s authenticity. I then realised that this too
    was a second attempt and it was subsequently removed. Can you now understand my scepticism when reading and replying to reviews? How many more have been written by the same person under a different name? I would hazard a guess that it is all those where I did not get a reply to my personal message.

    When we appeared in the media regarding this issue we received dozens of calls from other aggrieved business owners all over the UK. In one morning alone I took eleven calls from restaurants in Aberdeen. One owner spent 45 mins giving me the back-story to his restaurant and sobbing at the injustice of TA. I have eaten there and found it to be exceptional. He opened a few years ago and is trying very hard to establish it as something a bit different in an already crowded market. He has been inundated with bad reviews that have blatantly come from his competitors which has meant that he has dropped down the Aberdeen list. What do you suggest he does, apologise to every review even though he knows them to be lies? That is the human face of this problem. We were happy to stick our heads above the parapet as we are established with a good reputation (a reputation that my family has spent 16 years sweating blood and tears for and one that I was defending when faced with allegations of theft), sadly others are not so fortunate. The advertisement of their site as place to go to get honest reviews is a sham.

     
  5. Chris Emmins

    Freedom of speech is not under attack. No person casting honest opinion is threatened by these actions and quite rightly so. There is also the right of individuals and businesses of protection from malice and defamation – and I can confirm there are separate and individual cases being pursued against authors of malicious and defamatory comments. The reasons for taking these additional steps are simply ones of jurisdiction. The sending of a harmful and unrepresentative email to many thousands of people false under the jurisdiction of the FBI in the USA. Misleading statements fall under the bodies we have reported them to. Regardless of their disclaimers, TA also insists on using phrases and making statements that imply a strength of diligence, accuracy and trustworthiness of the content on their site. If a car manufacturer was to make statements about how much you could trust their vehicles, they would be expected ls to back it up with figures. The challenge being made is intended to enable TA to back this up with evidence – and to enable evidence contrary to their claims to also be submitted. The issue of using unsubstantiated testimonials in advertising also falls under these same bodies. There are rules regarding the use of testimonials that are there to protect consumers. The complaints made address these. KwikChex has, as per requests received already submitted examples and I am sure that if the authorities wish for more, many more will be forthcoming from several sources. And as we have also stated before, we do frequently report cases of fraudulent ‘good review’ posting too. As for the ethical aspects, that is something we will stand by. Not taking the appropriate actions and forcing people to take up court time, spend substantial amounts of money and enter into a lengthy process whilst all the time being damaged, when there is clear evidence that your resources are being used for fraudulent purpose may not be against the laws as they stand now (although this varies from country to country), but we don’t consider it ethical.

     
  6. RobertKCole

    @Mandy,

    I am not denigrating the Kwikchex business model or its utility to its clients. I am happy to hear that they helped you and that you see value in their services.

    My issue is with their public campaign to aggressively file claims with groups like the FTC, FBI & ASA against TripAdvisor, Google, etc. who are operating within accepted widely accepted laws and practices for sites leveraging user generated content.

    And yes, I am sorry to inform you, as a small business, you are expected to bear the cost of clearing our name every time a competitor or disgruntled ex member of staff decides to make a false accusation. That is an unfortunate cost of doing business.

    Of course Kwikchex is happy to follow-up on your concerns and vigorously address the issue with reviewers – you are paying them well to manage that process on your behalf. As you do not currently compensate TripAdvisor, would you prefer that they offer a comparable process at a similar fee level as an enhanced service? I would doubt it.

    In reviewing the TripAdvisor listing for your establishment, The Cock & Bull Restaurant in Aberdeenshire, I see 62% of your reviews are favorable. You are being very diligent in commenting on many reviews regardless of its rating, which is commendable and certainly reflects your interest.

    While you rank #1 in your area, 20 of the 71 current reviews are Poor or Terrible, which is should represent a legitimate concern. The negative reviews seem to share a number of common themes. While you staunchly defend your side of the story, you might want to consider adjustments regarding pricing, portion size, seating processes and service delivery to eliminate some of the negative reviews.

    In a number of your responses, you imply that the negative review is in response to the TripAdvisor publicity, but it appears the mixed reviews predate the publicity back to 2009.

    After reviewing all of your responses, I did not see many entries that reflected a tone that you were taking the criticism under advisement and changing a process to correct the perceived deficiency.

    Instead, it was more interesting to read your steadfast position not to cede to demands from guests to modify a policy or provide a discount under threat of a negative review. That is a noble policy, but it seems that your patrons are not making idle threats. It is your personal decision as management to operate and market your establishment as you see fit.

    For your establishment, I generally get a good idea that the food is good, the prices might be a bit high and that there should not be any expectation that the rules may be bent or concession easily made for perceived shortcomings. This may or may not be completely accurate, but no amount of legislation or accusation of criminal activity on the part of TripAdvisor or any other UGC-based site will substantially change it.

    You are obviously aware of the old restaurant adage “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The same applies to business in the era of social media. The other adage “The guest is always right” is also pertinent.

    Social media and UGC sites provide extraordinary opportunities for individuals to gain valuable insights on the establishments they are considering to patronize – positive, neutral & negative.

    Social media also provides a new tool for patrons to bully establishments into providing satisfaction – whether it is warranted or not. The Internet and Web 2.0 have changed the rules for everyone. You aren’t going to sue them for blackmail or extortion and they aren’t going to stop trying to game the system to get a better deal.

    TripAdvisor clearly understands these issues and doesn’t get heavily involved with moderating comments or making decisions on who is right or wrong. In the case of the mixed reviews of the Cock & Bull (many, both positive and negative, which appear to be legitimate) this appears to be a wise decision, regardless of the number of AA Rosettes.

    Each TripAdvvisor review clearly states “review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member” and each operator response states “response is the subjective opinion of the management representative”

    That said, TripAdvisor fundamentally serves its purpose by providing users with the subjective opinions of others and some basic tallies to summarize the collective view of the community.

    Again, my recommendations to Kwikchex are to either a) lobby various global institutions to change the libel laws (good luck on that one…) or, b) refocus efforts on any organized group that is making a business through libelous black-hat ORM techniques.

    I really like that second alternative as Kwikchex could work in concert with the review sites to benefit everyone. A good comparison would be the anit-virus software groups working with the organizations (operating system developers, e-mail providers, ISPs, browser developers, etc.) that spread viruses by helping deliver the malevolent payload.

    As I stated, my opinion is that Kwikchex’s attacks on TripAdvisor & Google do little more than raise awareness of Kwikchex and ignore the root cause of the problem.

     
  7. RobertKCole

    @Chris – You make several points:

    “At no time has KwikChex suggested that these sites are guilty of legal defamation themselves” – Thank you. You have just reinforced my point. Therefore, I am wondering exactly why you are reporting TripAdvisor to the US Federal Trade Commission, FBI and UK Advertising Standards Authorities?

    The summary of the article clearly states:

    – 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.

    While these charges are technically different from legal defamation, these accusations depict very serious criminal activity involving “unlawful practices”, “harassment” and “creation of alleged defamatory content” on the part of TripAdvisor.

    You fundamentally offer the opinion in your reply that the practices of TripAdvisor are unethical. Your questioning of the ethics surrounding legal business practices of sites featuring user generated reviews is a far cry from the allegations of criminal behavior outlined above.

    Additionally, what standard of proof is being used to assert that reviews originate from “a source where fraudulent reviews are known to be posted?” If that is the case, again, why not just direct your resources at targeting the actual perpetrators? Because it is difficult, expensive and lengthy process? The expense of introducing litigation through a formal legal process helps create a deterrent that keeps frivolous lawsuits from tying up our courts.

    Similarly, legal precedent dictates that a high standard is established to protect those accused of libel from wrongful convictions.In some cases, plaintiffs may be required to prove that the injurious claims were made with malice and/or resulted in economic loss as opposed to fair comment and criticism.

    In the US, there is no federal defamation law and less than 1/2 of the states have criminal defamation laws.

    Your suggestion that TripAdvisor create a new process to ask reviewers if they stand by comments introduces unproductive redundancy. It must be assumed that if a reviewer authored a comment, that they intended to see it published. There is no confusion surrounding the context of TripAdvisor reviews being published for public review.

    Your proposed method assumes lack of response by a reviewer condones tacit agreement to remove their post? Again, I believe the free-speech advocates may take issue with such a process.

    TripAdvisor already provides methods for hoteliers to publicly refute comments and engage the guest. The owner center may be used by hoteliers to present information that can help TripAdvisor identify bogus content.

    Again, inaccurate information undermines the consumer value provided by TripAdvisor. The site is a trusted resource for millions of travelers – and for good reason. This degree of trust, however does not assume a guarantee of the authenticity and veracity of 100% of the reviews – that is an unreasonable standard to hold for any UGC site.

    TripAdvisor has been an outspoken supporter of the “Olympic Method” of evaluating traveler reviews – throw out the outrageously high and low scores, and average those remaining. In the cases of brand new businesses, small properties or tertiary destinations where there are not many reviews, true, the buyer needs to be more cautious as the reviews may not accurately represent the experience.

    TripAdvisor cares about diligence and ethics. Stephen Kaufer is arguably one of the most intelligent leaders within the travel industry who understands a site needs to be useful before it becomes popular.

    Attacking TripAdvisor & Google through the FTC, FBI & ASA on this topic will only channel their corporate resources toward legal defense, as opposed to enhancing methods to eliminate bogus reviews.

    Trust me, I am vehemently opposed to those authoring illegitimate reviews and would be staunchly supportive of medieval public torture for those convicted of the offense.

     
  8. FirstAmendmentGuy

    I’m so happy Kwikchex alerted the FBI. But why did you stop there? For national security’s sake, shouldn’t the CIA have been alerted too?

    And, I hope the upcoming FBI raid on TripAdvisor headquarters takes place before the spinoff. Seeing Stephen Kaufer, who would be CEO of the new public company, having to take a perp walk would be too embarassing.

    Damn, let’s get rid of those one-year-old and “irrelevant” reviews. Hurry please.

    Thank God Kwikchex wasn’t around when the US Constitution and its free speech provisions were being written. This comment would never have been allowed.

     
    • Peggy Lee

      I agree which you First Amendment Guy, let’s lead Steve out in hand cuffs and we might as well lead Ken Chenault out as well. Travel agents routinely quote “hear say” from other agents and friends.

      And to think a consulting friend of mine wanted us to represent Kwikchex in the USA. I’d have lots of revenues coming in now from the Reputation Police. Kind of reminds me of a competitor to b-there who couldn’t sell anything so they filed a bogus patent and billed everybody for transactions…they didn’t bill us though, just all the competitors to b-there, since we did actually have the patent. I wonder who paid them? I bet some associations did.

       
  9. Mandy Davidson

    Dear Robert,
    I have one such business that has suffered from a campaign of libellous reviews on Tripadvisor. For seven months we had a review accusing the business of theft, a review that caused not only damage to my business but also personally. Tripadvisor ignored any plea of innocence and in fact did not reply to any of the many emails sent pleading our very clear cut case (we were accused of selling bottled water from a tap witnessed by the reviewer – we have no tap in view of customers). Their arrogance on the matter was quite frankly astounding, the review met their guidelines therefore it would remain. We looked at the legal avenue but we are a small business, are we expected to bear the cost of clearing our name every time a competitor or disgruntled ex member of staff decides to make a false accusation? We enlisted the help of Kwikchex who then sent a message to the reviewer asking them to verify their claims or remove the review…they removed the review. Had Tripadvisor done the same thing when we asked it would have saved 7 months of misery and frustration. Since then I have had four more reviews removed, four reviews that slipped through Tripadvisor’s extensive fraud detection!
    Why is it that a negative review on Tripadvisor is posted within 24 hours yet a positive one can take up to two weeks and that a management response (their cure-all for disgruntled business-owners to have the last say) can also take up to two weeks. From a business standpoint their website is flawed yet they arrogantly stand by their tagline “get the truth then go”. I have been disgusted by their actions and wholeheartedly applaud the actions of Kwikchex.

     
  10. Chris Emmins

    Dear Robert, At no time has KwikChex suggested that these sites are guilty of legal defamation themselves – what they actually do is enable deceit and fraud on a grand scale. In the case of TripAdvisor, they then use phraseology such as ‘Reviews you can trust’ and ‘reviews from real travellers’. It is they that claim they have adequate screening in place to detect fraudulent reviews. all of this is misrepresentation, hence the actions. Furthermore, even when presented with clear evidence that reviews are fraudulent and contravene their own ‘guidelines’ they fail to take action – we believe that is unethical and that is why we campaign publicly. Actions are taken directly against some authors – but it is an expensive and lengthy process and is made more difficult by the out of date laws that unethical businesses that care more about volume than they do about the truth hide behind. It is all very well to blithely dismiss the need to take the actions we are taking, but I would suggest that you talk to the businesses that have the worst kind of accusations and malice made against them which are found every time someone searches for them. To be accused of, for example child abuse or theft and know that every time someone searches for you on the internet that is what will be found – and then either have your complaints ignored or astonishingly, told that they meet posting guidelines is very far from a frivolous matter. Just some simple steps in the right direction would help – i.e. if comments are reported as malicious, untruthful etc., the site can notify the author that their comments have been challenged and ask if they wish to stand by them. If they do not respond, remove the post. If they say they stand by them. it is then up to the challenger to decide if they wish to take it further. If website owners are not willing to take even the simplest steps to ensure a degree of veracity, then it demonstrates how little they actually care about diligence or ethics – and they deserve every bit of criticism and legitimate legal challenges that come their way.

     
  11. RobertKCole

    I still maintain that the actions of Kwikchex are wildly misguided.

    TripAdvisor, Google etc. are not guilty of defamation, they are merely guilty of amplification. True, a nefarious negative review for an innocent hotel may be spread widely through most user-generated comment/review sites. Equally so, a bogus positive review for a competitor of that innocent hotel can get circulated across the web.

    However, where the Kwikchex conspiracy theory falls apart is that these illegitimate reviews/comments do not receive preferential treatment or greater amplification than any legitimate positive reviews from actual guests of the subject hotel.

    The argument that TripAdvisor intentionally benefits from the promotion of libelous reviews is silly. Popular stories such as the Dirtiest Hotels – based on the aggregation of their community’s ratings – do not malevolently single out individual properties for ridicule, they merely ridicule the properties with the lowest community ratings. Again, the liability should fall on the groups responsible for creating the false, libelous reviews.

    TripAdvisor & Google do not want inaccurate reviews blighting their platforms. Based on their current business models, they are taking reasonable efforts to identify and eliminate illegitimate content.

    The core problem is that the black-hat ORM groups are more sophisticated than the efforts in place to police them. Search engines have the same challenge with black-hat SEO – it is a constantly escalating battle for the good guys to nab the bad guys. Google had the best of intentions with its Panda SEO enhancements, but has received endless grief with stories of innocent websites with downgaded Page Ranks suffering as collateral damage. Many say that’s not “fair” either.

    For reviews, it can be argued that Google+ and its integration with Google Places pages is a step in the right direction as it associates the reviews with a profile that links that account across social graphs, increases the signal of reviews made by friends, and somewhat penalizes anonymity.

    TripAdvisor integrating more deeply with Facebook has a similar benefit.

    Kwikchex’s primary complaint is that “TripAdvisor does not authenticate reviews as a matter of course – they do not even verify that the poster is a genuine customer of the business they are reviewing.”

    This is true. TripAdvisor does not provide a comparable service to Amazon’s Real Names feature. That is because Amazon is a transaction-based site that requires credit cards to sell product. Trip Advisor is not – it’s a different business model.

    Kwikchex’s proposed solutions of having the review sites independently validate stays or deleting reviews older than one year are laughable.

    Mandatory review validation will only lead to having every negative review questioned by the subject hotel to make the web site run the gauntlet of definitively validating the source. As reservation confirmation e-mails can be easily manipulated, would a PDF copy of the guest departure folio be the only acceptable documentation? If the policy becomes “if it can’t be validated, it can’t be published” this would be an effective defensive strategy by low quality hotels to suppress valid negative reviews.

    Of course, all hotels could be required to make their guest history ledgers available to TripAdvisor, Google or a government agency (or perhaps Kwikchex?) so they can be mapped against each guest’s social graph and/or ip address for validation? I’m thinking the free-speech and privacy advocates might take issue with that approach.

    The concept of purging 12-month old reviews is equally ridiculous.

    Obviously, the best defense against bogus reviews is to marginalize them with a significantly larger ratio of legitimate reviews. If reviews are purged after 12 months, it improves the opportunity for these covert ORM firms to more effectively game the system – especially for quality properties that benefit from years of consistently high (legitimate) ratings.

    Kwikchex’s current posturing constitutes little more than whining – and clever manipulation of news outlets and websites to promote awareness of its own ORM services. It sure beats creating little link wheels on sites like feedblack.com & thenetshop.co.uk or manually posting comments with backlinks on various Topix forums to boost SEO, right?

    My advice to Kwikchex: stop bothering the government agencies & industry associations with frivolous accusations. Reset your sites on the actual perpetrators of the illegitimate reviews – those are the evildoers.

    If Kwikchex does not like the TripAdvisor (or any other advertising supported review site) business model, why not start up a competitive web site and trumpet improved review accuracy?

    If Kwikchex has techniques to accurately identify these bogus reviews in a superior manner to those employed by TripAdvisor & Google, why not patent the unique process and sell it to them?

    Better yet, if Kwikchex is so good at identifying the sources of libelous reviews, why not establish a business to legally defend your clients by using the court system to prosecute and bring the perpetrators to justice?

    Bottom line – Kwikchex needs to come up with better solutions. Or be happy that the shortcomings of the TripAdvisor and Google Places business models provide an opportunity for groups like Kwikchex to establish flourishing ORM practices.

     
  12. Peggy Lee

    The question to me is does “word of mouth” vs. “fact” make a difference online as it would in an online enviornment. If I said “I don’t like this hotel..blah, blah, blah” to a group of interested parties, socially or say I was a travel agent, and I did it in a public place, would I be subject to a lawsuit like TripAdvisor? If my states were based upon “I asked some friends and strangers to tell me what that thought about the hotel and this is the feedback, since you asked” . Who’s a lawyer and could tell me if I would be liable here. Offline.

     
  13. Andrew Shepp

    “Truth” is a pretty good remedy to charges of Obvious and Extensive anything. What a load of crap. First ammendment anyone?

     
    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @andrew

      the point here is not about restriction of freedom of speech, but redress for when so-called freedom is abused unfairly at the expense of innocent parties.

      Right?

       
 
 

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