The UK’s advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has told travel review website TripAdvisor LLC to stop making claims that its content is honest, real and trusted amidst findings that the site may host fake reviews. The website claims that it “offers trusted advice from real travelers…More than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travelers around the world” and “Reviews you can trust”. However, several complainants challenged whether those claims can be substantiated. TripAdvisor responded to the complaints by saying that while they could not guarantee that reviews were 100% free from fraudulent content, they use fraud detection systems to identify and minimise non-genuine content; therefore the practical impact of small numbers of fraudulent reviews slipping through the net is negligible. TripAdvisor also explained that it requires reviewers to give a declaration that their review is genuine and honest and makes clear that fake reviews are both illegal and prohibited by their T&Cs.
Assessing the claims, the ASA acknowledged that TripAdvisor takes steps to monitor suspicious content and asks reviewers to declare that their review is genuine. However it found that reviews could be placed on the site without verification and that non-genuine content could appear on the site undetected. On that basis, it concluded that the claims which implied consumers could be assured that TripAdvisor reviews were honest and trusted were misleading.
Claims made by advertisers and marketers must be capable of substantiation and must not mislead consumers. While TripAdvisor had taken steps to monitor and catch fake content, it had not done enough to make out its claims that travellers’ reviews are genuine and honest.