Fri, 14 Sep, 2018
“Landmark ruling”: Man jailed after writing fake review on TripAdvisor
A man from Italy has been handed a “landmark” nine-month jail sentence after writing fake reviews on TripAdvisor.
The man’s company PromoSalento sold fake, positive reviews to hundreds of businesses across Italy to boost their online profiles and make sales.
His sentence, which has been described as a “landmark ruling for the internet”, was given in a criminal court in Lecce, Italy.
The unnamed man must also pay a $13,000 fine for his actions.
In Italy, it is illegal to write fake reviews using a false identity.
Although many jurisdictions have cracked down on those who are deliberately misleading customers on the internet, this is the first time paid-review fraud has resulted in a jail sentence.
“We see this as a landmark ruling for the internet,” TripAdvisor’s vice president and associate general counsel Brad Young said.
“Writing fake reviews has always been fraud, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone sent to jail as a result.”
TripAdvisor first began investing PromSalento in 2015 after various businesses who had been offered paid reviews came forward.
During the investigation, TripAdvisor identified and blocked over more than 100 attempts by PromoSalento to submit fake reviews on the platform.
TripAdvisor also penalised properties that had paid PromoSalento to write the false reviews.
“Review fraud is something TripAdvisor takes extremely seriously, employing advanced tracking technology and a dedicated team of investigators to catch paid review companies and prevent them from operating on the site,” the company said.
A restaurant owner who was approached by PromoSalento brought the case to Italian police.
“The police investigation into PromoSalento delivered enough evidence of criminal conduct to send the case to court,” TripAdvisor said.
Since 2015, TripAdvisor has brought down 60 different paid review companies around the world.
“Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it’s important everyone plays by the rules,” said Pascal Lamy, the world committee on tourism ethics chairman at the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.
“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.”