Online travel giant TripAdvisor has been in a legal battle over paid, fake reviews in Italy. Today, TripAdvisor announced what they are calling a “landmark win” in the “fight against paid review fraud.” According to a statement from TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer, this recent legal cases has resulted in the owner of an illegal business that sold fake reviews being sentenced to nine months in prison and a monetary fine in costs and damages. While paid review fraud is against the law in several countries, this ruling is one of the first cases resulting in a criminal conviction.
Fake online reviews have been a problem for any website with review options. Fake reviews are against the terms of service agreements for many companies, including popular review sites like Google and Yelp. Amazon has even outlawed incentivized reviews from its site, which is the practice of writing reviews in exchange for a discounted or free product.
If you own a business with either an online or off-line presence, be sure to watch for online reviews – or hire someone to help you do that. Those reviews might be for products on retail websites or even the types of rating for business as a whole – such as those seen on Google Maps or travel websites.
Avoid Breaking the Review Rules
Here are some tips to help you, as a reviewer or business owner, stay within the confines of a website’s terms of service (which vary from site to site).
- Don’t review your own business in an attempt to boost your rating
- Don’t negatively review a competitor in an attempt to lower their review rating
- Stay on topic – reviews and ratings aren’t the place for political commentary, solicitation, or other personal rants.
- Don’t rate a business based on an employment experience (Google recently banned this type of rating in it’s terms of service.)
- Don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Some sites allow for usernames that protect your privacy, but don’t purposely pose as another person.
- Before you post a negative review, or respond to a review as a business owner, take some time to think. Emotions can make us do and say things in the heat of the moment. Give yourself a time-out and come back to the issue when you’ve calmed down.
- As a business, don’t pay customers (or otherwise offer incentives) to leave you a review. It IS okay to ask them to leave you a review. (ie a cashier could ask a customer to leave a review on examplesite.com as they are checking out.) But offering discounts, giveaways, or other incentives in exchange for reviews really muddies the waters. And since I’m NOT a legal expert, you can check out frequently asked questions for this issue on the FTC website regarding the Consumer Review Fairness Act and other regulations regarding endorsements.
If you do see review activity that seems inappropriate, flag or report that review or user on the platform itself. You can also file a complaint with the FTC regarding illegal review activity in certain situations.