A business owner who sold over 1,000 fake reviews to restaurants and hotels in Italy to boost their rankings in TripAdvisor has been sentenced to nine months in prison.
The man, who ran a site called Promo Salento and charged 100 pounds for 10 reviews, is also required to pay 8,000 euros in costs and damages after a Puglia court ruled that writing false reviews using fake identities is a crime. TripAdvisor volunteered information from its own probes which started in 2015 with Italian authorities working on the case.
TripAdvisor described the landmark ruling as “pivotal”, adding in a statement that “paid review fraud – when companies or individuals ‘sell’ fake reviews to business owners – is a violation of the law in many jurisdictions. But this is one of the first cases of enforcement resulting in a criminal conviction.”
“We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet. Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result,” said Brad Young, vice president, associate general counsel at Tripadvisor.
Young went on to add that TripAdvisor has over the last three years stopped the activities of over 60 online businesses providing false reviews, but “we can only do so much alone, which is why we’re eager to collaborate with regulators and law enforcement authorities to support their prosecutions.”
The World Tourism Organization welcomed the outcome of the trial.
“Online reviews play a major role in purchasing decisions, but it’s important everyone plays by the rules,” said Pascal Lamy, World Committee on Tourism Ethics chairman at the UNWTO.
“Fake reviews clearly contravene the World Committee on Tourism Ethics guidelines, which we published last year to guide the responsible use of ratings and reviews on digital platforms. 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.”
In the meantime, TripAdvisor is calling on all tourism business owners who are contacted by online platforms providing false reviews to report them immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A global giant, the US-based travel site publishes over 660 million reviews and opinions on 7.7 million accommodations, airlines, experiences, and restaurants worldwide.