TripAdvisor faces legal action over 'red flag' activity

TripAdvisor, the online travel review site, is facing legal action for defamation for the use of its "red flag" feature, which warns consumers of activity that the site deems "suspicious".

TripAdvisor: faces action for defamation over its red flag feature
TripAdvisor: faces action for defamation over its red flag feature

Deborah Sinclair, the owner of Riverside Hotel and Restaurant in Evesham, Worcestershire, started defamation proceedings this week against the American site, requesting the disclosure of details that have given TripAdvisor cause to use its "red flag" feature on her hotel’s TripAdvisor page.

The page shows a red box featuring a warning sign and red text, stating that TripAdvisor has "reasonable cause to believe" that the hotel owners or affiliates "may have interfered with traveller reviews".

TripAdvisor states in the box that it makes its "best efforts" to identify "suspicious" content, and is "always working to improve the processes we use to assess traveller reviews".

Sinclair has approached TripAdvisor through Kwikchex, an online reputation management firm, which has previous experience with taking action against the review site.

In August, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) confirmed it was investigating TripAdvisor following a complaint from Kwikchex that claimed there was a high level of defamatory comments hosted on the site.

Kwikchex also claimed TripAdvisor had "contravened its own guidelines" on screening every review before it is posted, and ignored its own rules concerning "zero tolerance on fraudulent reviews".

The ASA said today (26 October) that the matter is "still under formal investigation".

Roderick Dadak, head of defamation at law firm Lewis Silkin, said the action from Sinclair differs from previous complaints against the review site because "it has been brought not in respect of a fake review that rubbishes the hotel, but over TripAdvisor putting a warning notice to say that the hotel is allegedly involved in posting fake reviews".

TripAdvisor said in a statement today that it had "never" had any discussions directly with KwickChex and did not have "any further details around their allegations".

It said: "Beyond this, we do not comment on threatened or pending investigation."

Depending on the outcome of the ASA's investigations, TripAdvisor may be forced to change fundamental brand messages used on the site, such as "You’ll find real hotel reviews you can trust", and "find hotels travellers can trust".

Dadak told Marketing: "TripAdvisor has to recognise that if a body like the ASA says they have been misleading, then they will have to remove any representation that [the reviews] they are publishing are true."

TripAdvisor said that "as with all marketing messaging, the working used on the TripAdvisor site is constantly evolving to reflect different aspects of the business".

Follow Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith on Twitter @LoullaMae_ES


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