TripAdvisor ordered by UK regulator to stop claiming reviews are real, honest or trusted

TripAdvisor has hit back at a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority, calling the body “out of touch with real people” and saying it has no material impact on its business.

The UK advertising regulator upheld a complaint from online reputation firm Kwikchex and two hotels which argued wording on TripAdvisor’s UK website, such as “reviews you can trust…from real travellers…and trusted advice from real travellers”, was misleading because the company could not prove reviews were genuine or from real travellers.

The ASA ruled that the claims implied to consumers that all review content would be genuine and that users might not be able to detect and separate non-genuine content.

TripAdvisor says it stands by its “independently endorsed review integrity process” and has already made the marketing copy changes.

A statement from the company says:

“The ASA ruling flies in the face of common sense, and is out of touch with the millions of real people who use and trust consumer review sites like ours every day.

“It is worth noting that the General Media Panel (an independent group that provides industry expert advice to the ASA) disagreed with the ASA’s view of the claims. We feel the ruling is unrealistic in its expectation of sites likes ours.

“The ASA upheld the complaints on the basis that we could not provide 100% certainty that that every single review on the site was written by a real traveller and could be trusted. No system, verified or not, could provide this.”

TripAdvisor goes on to point out that the complaint to the ASA made last September was not from members of the public but by an online reputation company with an ‘obvious commercial interest in undermining people’s confidence in user-generated review platforms’.

A second complaint to the ASA from Kwikchex around using unverified testimonials in advertising messages has not yet been ruled on.

Chris Emmins of Kwikchex says:

“We welcome that an independent and impartial authority has investigated this matter.It is important to make very clear that when reviews are not authenticated, there is every chance they can be faked, both positive and negative reviews.

“We want to emphasise that you can’t generalise. It is not right to cite overall scale or some sort of ‘acceptable collateral damage’, when it comes to fake reviews. There are real people and their livelihoods unquestionably being hurt very badly.”

He adds that discussions with TripAdvisor have been more “fruitful” recently.

NB: Image via Shutterstock.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail to someone

About the Writer :: Linda Fox

Linda worked at tnooz from September 2011 to June 2018 in roles including senior reporter, deputy editor and managing editor.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Karel

    There IS a point in the ruling.

    Managing a resort in the Philippines, and occasionally getting reviews from people without previously written reviews that slander the resort with flat-out lies is a bad thing.
    We have no issues with people writing about bad experiences, but when you are accused of existing only for sex tourism and that the only “other” guests are old lazy geezers by someone whose review on this resort is the ONLY resort he’s ever written, while 99% of the guests of this resort is European and American backpackers in the age of 18-35…
    That’s slightly screwed up.

    TripAdvisor allows management to report posts, which we did, but they ruled that the review is within the guidelines of the organization and wouldn’t be removed.

  2. michele

    the matter is though that a hotel must be able o decide wether to be reviewed or not on a third party site that has nothing to do with him .. There are privacy laws right?
    Suppose for a moment that instead of one review site there were 10, 100 or 1000 and more …. hotellier materially could never find the time to check all potential reviews !!
    Rmember, unsolicited reviews, speak publicly about the hotel.
    Potentially causing serious economical damage and image ruine. This maybe the same when it took years if not generations to build a reputation.
    Sites like Trip Advisor are and remain in the total lawlessness causing massive damage.
    Of course, at the expense of the smallest businesses who do not have the numbers to defend themselves as the big chains….

  3. Jan Perkins

    This is a complaint about TA removing GENUINE reviews by customers of ForTeas in Keighley West Yorkshire.

    This is a relatively new Forties Style Tea Room……and TA whilst allowing stupid comments like – no nettle tea and no powdered egg and it being given a terrible rating has removed any genuine ratings which we the customers post on there.

    The Tea Room has not been open more than 4 months and many of us return time and time again because of the wonderful atmosphere, friendliness etc…..many of us went in as strangers and came out as friends…..the staff frequently take pictures of their customer, which are put onto their FB page…..THEY are a massive success story in Keighley, why would TA want to remove their ratings like this.?

    Scores on the doors (hygiene etc in our town) have given them a 5***** rating, it speaks for itself.

    From being at Number 4 out of 64 they have removed many of the good reviews and left the terrible one on (this is an unfair review) how many people would go to a tea room who served nettle tea and powdered egg…..NOT me for one………now their rating is much much lower down……

    Their site is difficult to negociate and none of us have had any joy when we have tried to complain……

    YOUR comments would be appreciated….

    Jan Perkins

  4. Steve

    I have posted many reviews , real reviews covering from Singapore , Malaysia , Thailand , Indonesia , I spent many hours posting honests reviews.
    Then in December 2011 I posted some info for an extremely nice Villa in Sanur Bali & all of a sudden there was an attack from other regular posters who were friends of a rival business , they complained & the rival owner had obviously paid money to have the reviews taken down & any postings relating to this Villa were deleted without any explanation , I ask for a reason & was informed they don’t have to give a reason.
    Now this would not really bother me normally but the rival Villa accommodation was clearly at a much lower standard & very obvious that there were many fake reviews .I visited these Villa’s myself & had a look at what is ranked number one Villa’s in Sanur & found them to be very poor standard proving my suspicions.
    I posted my concern on Tripadvisor & there response was to cancel my account , very mature reaction for a so called professional outfit.To close my account with months of real reviews is very strange way to deal with this situation & I’m not the only one it has happened to.

  5. TripAdvisor moet claims over reviews verwijderen

    […] De uitspraak is TripAdvisor behoorlijk in het verkeerde keelgat geschoten. In een verklaring (bron) tekent het bedrijf aan dat de klacht bij ASA is ingediend door twee hotels en door Kwikchex. Dat […]

  6. Robert Feal-Martinez

    For TA to contend that it is not ‘customers’ complaining by which I think they mean providers is absolute rubbish. The TA owners forum is almost daily filled with exactly the complaints that the ASA acted on.

    Whilst accepting no verification system is not 100% none at all simply is unacceptable. Asking a reviewer to provide a hotel booking reference should be the basic requirement. Sites like Eviivo do just that, no booking number no review, it’s an automated system so not rocket science.

    The other thing from providers point of view is TA’s ridiculous rules that someone doesn’t even have to stay to write a review. How can you review services unless you’ve used them.

    I would think now the ASA has taken the first step, the US regulator will no doubt follow suit. TA obviously could be a source of good, but given that Expedia has off loaded them so quickly one assumes they realised the harm they could do to their ‘core’ business as a travel site.

    TA need to change before they become irrelevant. Many of my guests already say TA is a joke and not worth visiting.

  7. Ophir

    I think the question here is if TripAdvisor can use the terms “trusted” and “real travelers” if not every review can be verified. Even TripAdvisor, in their response to the ruling, claim that “…no system, verified or not, could provide this”. So it’s not so much a matter of whether or not TripAdvisor verifies each review, it’s a matter of using an umbrella term such as “trusted”, which covers all reviews, regardless of verified or not.

    Perhaps the best solution might be a system which would allow interested users to be verified through some sort of a process and be listed first on the hotel review page and marked as “Verified”. I suppose TripAdvisor would need to find a way to entice users to go through the process with some sort of an added bonus otherwise people might not take the time. I think many hotels have a survey capability through their inhouse TV service. If someone fills the survey through that channel and it’s automatically fed into TripAdvisor, it could be considered as automatically verified.

  8. Stuart McD

    Right so this ruling is just going to revolutionize how the general public, shills and saboteurs alike use TripAdvisor.

    Money well spent.

  9. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Let’s see, in the two days since the ASA ruling, TripAdvisor’s stock price has been rising. So far, no impact.

    • Andrew

      Hi Dennis I am not sure anyone is really out to hurt Tripadvisor financially it’s more a moral issue and lack of customer service on Tripadvisors side that as prompted alot of anger to wards them,as a journalist have you ever had the time or desire to look into any of the issues raised like fake reviews? I would have thought at a time when Tripadvisor as been in the spotlight it would have been a perfect time to do it,also lets respect a complaint was made to a government organisation who looked at the evidence and found in favour of the complainant these organisations are there to create fair play and protect us all.

  10. Andrew

    The only reason Tripadvisor refuses to put in place any kind of verification method is because they know reviews will drop considerably,amazingly, just recently they requested all owners and managers of properties and businesses listed on Tripadvisor either supply credit or debit card details where they then proceeded to make a pre authorisation for a certain amount of money to prove that you were a manager or owner or for people not feeling secure in doing that then you had to supply a utility bill with your name on it,if you refused to do either you lost all control of your listing on Tripadvisor even not being able to make any more management responses to reviews-now, that really is showing double standards for want of a better word-so Tripadvisor trust Joe public to make honest reviews but they don’t trust owners and managers listed on Tripadvisor.

  11. Mike Jervis

    Interesting conversations.
    For my part I have always thought that TA should only allow comments to be made provided that hotel reservation information was provided.
    Specifically the hotel confirmation number, arrival date and full reservation name should be given but only the date displayed and first name. The contributor would be warned that, if requested, this information would be provided to the hotel and maybe subject to legal action.
    At least it would make contributors aware that they should be factual in their statements.

  12. Phil

    Love the response from TripAdvisor – usual claptrap. Well done KwikChex, a small victory. The TA spokesperson on BBC Radio2 tonight, Emma, was running out the old line about people being able to spot fakes. Admission of slack standards?


  13. Andrew

    For the many businesses that like to use Tripadvisor content for there own advertising purposes in UK should read the following,especially the hotels claiming to be The best in the UK

    “The second complaint has now been confirmed as under investigation by the ASA. This is not directly against TripAdvisor. It is an example case that is seeking a ruling on whether unverified reviews such as those generated on the TripAdvisor site can be used by businesses for promotional purposes.

    It refers to CAP code rules 3.45 -‘ Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it.’

  14. Andrew


    The problem is until you have experienced a defamatory on Tripadvisor you have no idea how bad there customer service can be,what gets me is some people feel a lot of fuss as been made over the od negative review saying a property was not as clean as it should be or the staff were not very friendly, well that is not the case, we are talking about vicious attacks on businesses sometimes scripted very cleverly to gain maximum impact,also Tripadvisor use to produce a list of “The top ten dirtiest hotels” what right do Tripadvisor have to use user generated content without any verification to produce such a list? a list they have now stopped producing as Tripadvisor CEO recently admitted it was just a PR stunt, (at other peoples expense) In the opposite direction they produce there best hotel awards once again based on reviews that have not been verified,I can not understand how some people do not see the unfairness in these procedures as some of these hotels are using Tripadvisor content as promotional activity for there businesses which is against the law here in the UK simply because the reviews are not 100% verified.

  15. DanteA

    As TripAdvisor is not a booking site, and does not handle actual transactions, verification is not at all a simple matter. And why should tripadvisor be different from the myriad of websites that publish user reviews on products and services? This is indeed a slippery slope. The above comment “there seems to have been loads of cases of hoteliers having their businesses falsely criticised” is important – SEEMS – kwikchex has run an admirable PR campaign to create this impression. Those of us who rely on tripadvisor, however, have a very different perspective – the opinions tend to be spot on. I have yet to have a bad experience relying on the reviews. I agree that there needs to be a better way for hoteliers to contest reviews that they can demonstrate are false, but this ASA ruling is meaningless. If I were a hotelier who paid thousands of euros to kwixchex only to see this outcome (i.e. “change some of your marketing copy”) I would be very disappointed indeed.

  16. Neal

    It’s astonishing that no hotels have tried bringing a case of malicious falsehood or libel against TripAdvisor in the UK. There seems to have been loads of cases of hoteliers having their businesses falsely criticised – and being attacked personally – in so-called reviews. TripAdvisor always trots out the same line about have tough procedures to identify false content but actually makes it near impossible to get defamatory content taken down. Why should a hotelier who has been defamed write a response to refute false allegations and have that as the only means of recourse? From a PR and business perspective it is a feeble response. Verification is so simple, yet TripAdvisor won’t go there for fear of having to ditch all its current content and start again. At least this ruling means everyone is now safe under UK libel law to say, and write, that TripAdvisor offers reviews you can’t trust…

  17. Andrew

    RobertCole says The difference is similar to the distinction between a feature article or opinion piece and a news report. Under the new ruling, TripAdvisor can’t make advertising claims it can not substantiate. This aligns quite nicely with the US law that fundamentally looks at who is the content creator and makes the author responsible for the content.

    So if the ASA ruling now aligns nicely with US law then are we to see the claims of Trusted Reviews from Genuine Travellers removed from all Tripadvisor sites? or is it that the ASA equivalent in the USA as not looked at this yet.

  18. Chris Emmins, KwikChex

    For the sake of additional clarity, this is the statement that KwikChex has made today.

    The complaint centred on TripAdvisor’s claims of the trustworthiness and reliability of reviews posted on their website. It was made because of what we regarded as exaggerated claims by TripAdvisor regarding the trustworthiness of reviews on their website, which are all unsubstantiated – without even verification that authors of comments left on the site are genuine customers of the businesses they were reviewing.

    We know that a substantial number are false – both positive and negative reviews, and this has been proven many times.

    Since the original complaint was made, we have conducted further investigations and obtained further evidence of the ways in which the site is being abused by fraudsters, some of whom are malevolent and do great harm to reputable businesses. It is small businesses that suffer most as they tend to have few reviews and so the impact is much greater – although any business with a recent very bad review does suffer, particularly if it is for example a false accusation of something such as food poisoning, bed bugs or criminality. The last reviews made can sit on or near the top of the profile for a considerable time and appear high up internet search results. This unquestionably results in a loss of business, even if the profile / rating is generally good.

    There are also a growing number of people that are using or attempting to use reviews sites to extort discounts and money from businesses. Some of these are premeditated fraud. We are now handling cases such as this that are being reported to the police.

    In terms of fake positive reviews, we will be releasing evidence of precisely how the few checks and systems that TripAdvisor have in place are being circumvented to manipulate the rankings. This will also lead to identification of some of the businesses employing ‘professional’ review fraudsters. We will be providing this information to both TripAdvisor and the relevant authorities in a bid to help stop such practices. In exchange we will be asking TripAdvisor to prioritise examination of cases brought to us by our members which have clear evidence of defamation, malice and gross distortion.

    It is not necessarily bad businesses that attempt this subterfuge. Businesses that have particularly low standards are likely to be caught out very quickly. There is a perception that boosting a rating a few places in say the top 20 in a location will also boost revenues. The professional fraudsters tend to approach businesses that are in the top 20 -50 with promises of moving them up the ranking. Similarly, bad reviews are placed to knock competitors down a few places and make consumers think twice about booking.

    TripAdvisor do have the capability to provide genuine authentication, which would be good for both consumers and reputable, well run businesses. Their UK subsidiary, Holiday Lettings, has a review system that is powered by and hosted on TripAdvisor. It clearly states ‘Verify your stay: We only accept reviews of vacation rentals from people who actually stayed at that property. Guest of record and date of stay will be presented to the manager to verify your stay. We will not share the content or rating of the review with the manager.’

    Similarly Expedia, who until recently owned TripAdvisor and floated the company off as a separate, publicly traded company last month has also recognised the pressing need for verification. John Kim, Expedia’s senior vice president of global products, just days after the TripAdvisor floatation told USA Today:
    “(Customers) have been asking for a source of reviews they can trust,” Kim says, citing stories of a “black market” of fake reviews on other review sites. How widely held a belief that is, however, isn’t clear. So far, focus groups that Expedia has brought into its building to try out the system have garnered positive feedback, Kim says.” This has tested off the charts in our internal testing,” he told me. “People love the idea that our reviews are verified so you can’t randomly leave a review.”
    And Expedia recently approached KwikChex about providing additional authentication services.

    KwikChex will be announcing shortly a number of other initiatives which are aimed at preventing review fraud and improving overall reliability, which they will be discussing with reviews sites across the world.

    • Andrew

      Chris Emmins as come into some criticism that for some reason he is profiting from kwikchex hard work in trying to help people deal with fake and defamatory reviews,He and his company should be congratulated for all there hard work,if Tripadvisor dealt with complaints properly and took serious fake and damaging reviews then arguably Kwikchex would not be the success story they are becoming.

      Well done Chris and your team at kwikchex.

    • RobertKCole

      Chris & Andrew. I am sorry to report that the ASA decision has absolutely nothing to do with TripAdvisor being compelled to change its business model and transition to a 100% verified product review site. It pertains to TripAdvisor substantiating advertising claims.

      There is little doubt that TripAdvisor could contract a research organization to perform a neutrally administered research study querying a statistically significant universe of travelers on the most trusted website for hotel reviews. Assuming TripAdvisor would win, they would be able to proclaim that TripAdvisor was the most trusted site for hotel reviews and cite the source and date of the research.

      What continues to puzzle me about Kwikchex is that the target of their efforts should be on the perpetrators of the false reviews as opposed to TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor is not slandering anybody – their website simply amplifies the content created by third parties – both positive and negative.

      I respect Kwikchex for creating a business that defends hotels against malicious, defamatory and grossly misrepresented allegations, although this is very commonly territory covered by legal professionals.

      If an individual is slanderously libeling a hotel, that hotel should take necessary action to identify the individual and bring them to justice. Similarly, if a covert, black-hat reputation management organization damaging a hotel’s reputation by aggressively astroturfing, they too should be revealed and brought to justice.

      The key aspect that appears to be overlooked by Kwikchex is that social computing is not a perfect environment. It’s messy, full of hyperbole, narcissism, vindictiveness and misstatements. However, none of those things may cross the line into illegality and are therefore difficult to suppress, regardless of how distasteful they may be.

      However, social computing is also full of unexpected discovery, unrequited acts of kindness and unparalleled generosity when it comes to sharing valuable information. It represents both democracy and free speech at its best and worst.

      That said, most TripAdvisor users would undoubtedly realize that the site provides an aggregated summary of subjective opinion that should not be treated as fully vetted facts. The same logic applies to information found on Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook or any other social/crowdsourced platform.

      True – TripAdvisor can and should improve (they can start with that nasty user interface…) I am very concerned that Fake Review Optimization will undermine the value of TripAdvisor if steps are not taken to eradicate the practice. They should do a better job listening to hoteliers and increase their anti-FRO efforts. But these are business practice improvements, not an appropriate area for governmental legislation or regulation.

      If TripAdvisor becomes unreliable or irrelevant, there will be opportunity for another group to take its place with an improved product offering – see MySpace being usurped by Facebook for a good example.

      Chris, please feel free to copy and submit my five part Tnooz series on the details of Fake Review Optimization to the authorities for background on the methods employed – with full attribution, of course. However, you should have obviously learned that the worst offenders are, by design, extremely difficult to detect. This is why I get a sense that you want TripAdvisor to perform the difficult detective work as opposed to taking it on yourself.

      I am also looking forward to reading the “What’s Wrong With TripAdvisor?” report that was reportedly about to be released on December 14 – Wondering what may have caused the 45-day delay. (

      Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, Andrew, do you have a formal business relationship with Kwikchex; for example, as a customer or investor?

      • Andrew

        Hi Chris firstly can I thank you for your eloquent thoughts and replies they make great reading.
        I have NO interest as a customer investor or employee of Kwikchex though I am an accommodation provider I do have a strong opinion on anonymous reviews I am not anti Tripadvisor I just believe strongly that there business model for a long time was to one sided,fake reviews could be challenged but if they were written cleverly enough they could be posted around the guidelines making it impossible to have them removed I did suffer 2 years back by a vicious fake review that accused my staff of theft,if Tripadvisor had checked the review properly before letting it go live then it would never have been posted admittedly it was removed within 24 hrs.
        like many accommodation providers I strongly disagree with anonymous reviews but agree there is two sides of the argument of those in favour and those against,all the selling channels that I make rooms available for sale allow guest to write reviews by invitation once they return home.
        Tripadvisor have taken some steps to try and be more responsive to accommodation providers concerns,they have opened a call centre here in the UK.
        Where Kwikchex is concerned and as I previously mentioned if Tripadvisor had been more responsive in the past then I am sure there clients would not have had the need to pay for there service,have you read any of the case studies Chris?? where some accommodation providers have suffered through reviews that clearly violate Tripadvisor terms yet when challenged tripadvisor refused to remove such reviews only doing so when the media got involved.
        finally i just wondered what your views were on my earlier post regarding Tripadvisor requiring accommodation providers to use verification,also would you please take the time (I am guessing you are a tnooz journalist) and go to Tripadvisor and click on a few accommodation listings which have Professional photo’s if you click on them you will be directed to an on line selling channel would you not agree very misleading and the kind of thing that gets us accommodation providers angry.

  19. Todd Byrne

    Agree with Robert for the most part. TA cannot be held responsible for posts, after all it is the Internet and like the Studman69 meme portrays, you’d be silly to take Internet reviews as 100% accurate. Tagging their site as such is more a nod to the crowd sourced nature of reviews – there will always be a percentage that look to game the system (hotels giving upgrades for favour able reviews). What TA lacks most is perspective ie knowing the reviewer enough to know their tastes in relation to yours.

  20. RobertKCole

    OK – time to discuss some subtleties of this ruling.

    Sorry Andrew, this does not mean TripAdvisor needs to validate every review for a) authenticity of its author and b) confirmation of the hotel stay and c) that the reviewer was 100% accurate with the characterization of their experience. That is simply not going to happen.

    The Kwikchex business model – having groups pay to have these three aspects of a review scrutinized and defended, with negative reviews removed – is what has inspired them to serve as the catalyst for the ASA reviews.

    The ASA is not going to rule that the hotel industry is different from all other consumer goods & services categories and that every product review must be validated by the media platform that communicates the review. Such a ruling could potentially extend to every Twitter post and Facebook status update. The collateral damage would be a significant restriction on free speech and a stifling burden on the Internet Service providers and review websites. Innovation would cease – new businesses would avoid to be subjected to the legal risk of venturing into that territory.

    That said, I am – this will be a surprise – actually in agreement with the ASA ruling – but for completely different reasons than Kwikchex.

    This new ASA ruling limits the ability of TripAdvisor to add its own editorial perspective to the opinions and ratings submitted by the community it manages. I would argue that it is very different for TripAdvisor to write an article describing what it picked as the worst hotels in the world, versus reporting what its community voted through its rating system as the worst hotels in the world.

    The difference is similar to the distinction between a feature article or opinion piece and a news report. Under the new ruling, TripAdvisor can’t make advertising claims it can not substantiate. This aligns quite nicely with the US law that fundamentally looks at who is the content creator and makes the author responsible for the content.

    TripAdvisor is not responsible for the content contributed by its millions of authors – under US law, that can even extend to hate and highly prejudicial content – those authors are held responsible. However, if TripAdvisor starts publishing its own unique content and opinions – where TripAdvisor is the author (including advertising claims) they are held responsible for that content.

    The second complaint – using unverified testimonials in advertising is likely to be a much more interesting decision – and potentially a very slippery slope. My guess is that the ASA will rule that testimonials may be used in advertising as long as there is no relationship between the Advertiser and the author of the testimonial (i.e. the advertiser cannot provide incentives or compensation to testimonial authors without revealing that fact to consumers.) This again parallels the US Federal Trade Commission decision regarding compensation and relationships with bloggers and other social media.

    Bottom line – the author is responsible for what they write and if they were directly or indirectly compensated to write something, that needs to be disclosed to consumers.

  21. Andrew

    Sorry Tripadvisor but you now need to start a verification process for all reviewers its common sense that the ASA was going to up held the complain and go against you for the very fact you admitted you could not prove or verify all reviews were made by real travellers,so if you are accepting reviews from UNREAL travellers whats your solution??


Newsletter Subscription

Please subscribe now to Tnooz’s FREE daily newsletter.

This lively package of news and information from Tnooz’s web site provides a convenient digest of what’s happening in technology that drives the global travel, tourism and hospitality market.

  • Cancel