Interesting developments from the UK after the Advertising Standards Authority confirmed it has launched a probe into TripAdvisor over claims it has untrustworthy reviews.
The investigation was triggered by an official complaint from Kwikchex, the reputation management consultancy which has spent the best part of a year collecting information and examples of hotels that claim to have been on the receiving end of alleged defamatory and false reviews on TripAdvisor.
The ASA will not be investigating any of the reviews in question, but is allowed - under its remit of monitoring the activities of a company's marketing - to investigate TripAdvisor's claims to have unbiased and genuine reviews from real travellers featured on the site.
The investigation could take just a few weeks or several months, depending on the volume of the material filed by both Kwikchex and the response from TripAdvisor, an ASA official says.
Both companies have been informed this week of the investigation.
Kwikchex made two specific allegations about TripAdvisor to the ASA:
- TripAdvisor has breached the CAP Code (Committee of Advertising Practice) by using unverified testimonials in its advertising messages.
- TripAdvisor has misled consumers by claiming it has genuine reviews from real travellers.
After the probe has completed, ASA investigators could easily dismiss the complaints from Kwikchex, a decision it makes often on many of the 26,000 complaints it receives each year.
However, if either of the complaints are upheld, TripAdvisor could be forced to alter some of its on-site branding and external marketing messages.
A TripAdvisor official says:
"TripAdvisor does not comment on current or potential regulatory investigations or litigation."
The official probe by the ASA is the first significant development since Kwikchex started its own investigation into alleged defamatory reviews in September 2010.
The company has also recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in the US, once again accusing TripAdvisor for using "misrepresentation, misleading statements and unlawful practices of advertising using reviews where no substantiation is available and from a source where fraudulent reviews are known to be posted".