TripAdvisor has hit back at a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority, calling the body "out of touch with real people" and saying it has no material impact on its business.
The UK advertising regulator upheld a complaint from online reputation firm Kwikchex and two hotels which argued wording on TripAdvisor's UK website, such as "reviews you can trust...from real travellers...and trusted advice from real travellers", was misleading because the company could not prove reviews were genuine or from real travellers.
The ASA ruled that the claims implied to consumers that all review content would be genuine and that users might not be able to detect and separate non-genuine content.
TripAdvisor says it stands by its "independently endorsed review integrity process" and has already made the marketing copy changes.
A statement from the company says:
"The ASA ruling flies in the face of common sense, and is out of touch with the millions of real people who use and trust consumer review sites like ours every day.
"It is worth noting that the General Media Panel (an independent group that provides industry expert advice to the ASA) disagreed with the ASA’s view of the claims. We feel the ruling is unrealistic in its expectation of sites likes ours.
"The ASA upheld the complaints on the basis that we could not provide 100% certainty that that every single review on the site was written by a real traveller and could be trusted. No system, verified or not, could provide this."
TripAdvisor goes on to point out that the complaint to the ASA made last September was not from members of the public but by an online reputation company with an 'obvious commercial interest in undermining people's confidence in user-generated review platforms'.
A second complaint to the ASA from Kwikchex around using unverified testimonials in advertising messages has not yet been ruled on.
Chris Emmins of Kwikchex says:
"We welcome that an independent and impartial authority has investigated this matter.It is important to make very clear that when reviews are not authenticated, there is every chance they can be faked, both positive and negative reviews.
"We want to emphasise that you can't generalise. It is not right to cite overall scale or some sort of 'acceptable collateral damage', when it comes to fake reviews. There are real people and their livelihoods unquestionably being hurt very badly."
He adds that discussions with TripAdvisor have been more "fruitful" recently.
NB: Image via Shutterstock.