TripAdvisor has been fined €500,000 Euros (approx. AUD$750,000) by Italy’s Competition Authority, the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, (Competition Authority) for publishing misleading information about the source of its reviews.

These findings follow a 7 month investigation by the Competition Authority into TripAdvisor’s potentially unfair trade practices, which began in May 2014.

The Competition Authority found that TripAdvisor had failed to adopt appropriate controls to prevent the publication of false reviews and that it continued to promote the content on its Italian website as “authentic and genuine”.  Further, the Competition Authority claims that this practice of promoting reviews as genuine and reliable began back in September 2011.

The Competition Authority was prompted to investigate the measures TripAdvisor had in place to prevent false reviews being published after it received a number of complaints from a national hotelier’s association and consumer protection agency.

TripAdvisor has been given 90 days to respond and present a remedy.

TripAdvisor has announced it will appeal the findings, stating it believes its processes are “extremely efficient” in protecting consumers from those who try to cheat its system.

In February 2012, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned TripAdvisor UK from claiming or implying that all reviews on its website were from “real travellers” or were “honest, real or trusted”.  It found that consumers would understand these claims to mean they could be certain that the reviews posted on the website were from genuine travellers and accurately reflected their experiences.  In fact, the ASA understood that reviews could be placed on TripAdvisor’s UK website without any form of verification so it was possible for non-genuine content to appear on the site undetected.

The ACCC has also been concerned about a lack of transparency on certain websites.  It recently released a report into the comparator website industry, outlining its concerns that some comparator websites may be misleading consumers.  The ACCC announced it will release best practice guidelines for comparator website operators to aid compliance and will provide consumer guidance on how to check comparator websites are in fact “comparing apples with apples”.