Jail time for review fraudsters

Reuters

An Italian court handed the owner of PromoSalento, which sold falsified reviews to hospitality businesses in the country, a nine month jail term and ordered them to pay approximately €8,000 in costs and damages.

For what is believed to be the first time, a person has been sent to jail for writing fake reviews online.

The firm's vice-president associate general counsel Brad Young said: "We see this as a landmark ruling for the internet".

TripAdvisor said it believes some businesses paid for fake reviews and were subsequently hit with penalties that lowered their all-important popularity rankings. Since 2010, the fake review market has boomed with businesses hiring "reputation management" companies to write good reviews, suppress bad ones and submit negative reviews of their competitors.

"This is the first time we have seen the laws being enforced to the point of securing a criminal conviction".

The Criminal Court of Lecce has now ruled that this was "criminal conduct". More should be done to make organisations that pay for fraudulent reviews accountable under the law.


The cops launched a criminal prosecution against the man, and TripAdvisor joined the case as a civil claimant, in order to share its evidence.

He added: "Since 2015, we've put a stop to the activity of more than 60 different paid review companies worldwide".

TripAdvisor employs a dedicated team of investigators, who use advanced tracking technology to catch paid review companies and prevent them from operating on the site.

"Online reviews play a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions, but it's important everyone plays by the rules", said UNWTO World Committee on Tourism Ethics chairman, Pascal Lamy. In Italy, it is illegal to use a false identity to write fake reviews.

TripAdvisor is the world's biggest travel website with more than 600 million reviews covering accommodation, airlines, museums and restaurants. According to the Boston Globe, Italian officials have previously investigated TripAdvisor for their failure to remove fake reviews from the platform, and in 2017, the company received backlash for deleting reviews reporting rapes and sexual assault at Mexican resorts. TripAdvisor also compares prices from more than 200 hotel booking sites so travelers can find the lowest price on the hotel that's right for them.

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