Fake reviews, The Times and TripAdvisor

By | Category: Travel news

Over the weekend, The Times ran a story about fake reviews appearing on TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to read the story in full unless you had bought a copy or are an online subscriber.

It comes as no surprise to anyway in the travel industry that fake reviews exist. Just about Travel has mentioned in stories going back as far as 2011 that there were fake reviews and, in fairness to TripAdvisor, they have removed them once notified or when they have doubts.

Back in 2011, The Sunday Times ran a story that is similar to the one that its sister paper ran last weekend. That pointed out that hoteliers had offered free meals, rooms or cash incentives for positive reviews.

In the intervening years there have been other claims of a similar nature and a company in Bangladesh claimed to be able to supply a thousand reviews and have them posted. That was a while ago and the company may no longer exist but one that does at the centre of the The Times’ article.

A company called Fakespot which runs an algorithm to detect fake reviews on Amazon and other sites that contain reviews had a look at the reviews on TripAdvisor. It says that as many as a third are fakes and claims this after looking at the words used and the ways that the rec views have been written. On top of that the newspaper operated an undercover sting and found – just as its sister paper had done seven years ago – that hoteliers could “buy” favourable reviews of their own establishments as well as derogatory ones to be placed against their rivals. It says that it has looked at 5,280,600 reviews on TripAdvisor (TripAdvisor claims to have 600 million reviews) suggesting that about 1.7 million could be fakes. For B&B’s Fakespot says the number of fake reviews could be as high as 41.9%.

It should be remembered that Kakespot has no access to the algorithm that TripAdvisor uses to vet reviews and nor does TripAdvisor know how Fakespot determines which might be fakes and which might be genuine. Nor do we – the public – have any way of knowing which company is most likely to be right in its comments. It is case of “you pays your money and takes your choice.”

Only a fortnight ago TripAdvisor had successfully co-operated with Italian authorities in gaoling an Italian responsible for fake reviews. It says that since 2015 it has succeeded in stopping 60 different paid review companies worldwide.

The company has reacted to The Times story by vehemently denying it but, as yet, has not placed anything on its website. The only news coverage is from anonymous quoted sources.

Nonetheless providing fake reviews is still a business and the success of TripAdvisor in ending the business of 60 shows how big it is. The question is whether there are too many fraudsters for the company to handle. If the story in The Times is to be believed, then the company cannot copy and just like Facebook and Twitter it seems that TripAdvisor needs to spend more time in regulating its own systems.

Whilst TripAdvisor has been caught by this sting, what of the reviews on other travel websites? Are they similarly affected?

In the meantime users of TripAdvisor’s services need to treat reviews with caution.

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